E.U. Commission to open office in Baghdad, says top official

Brussels (dpa) - The European Commission will open an office in Baghdad within the coming months in a signal of the European Union's expanding relationship with Iraq, one of the bloc's top foreign relations officials said Friday.

European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters the Commission - the E.U.'s executive arm - planned to "gradually'' open a delegation in Baghdad to deal with the bloc's growing trade and aid contacts with Iraq.

The office would be established "in the next months'' but questions related to security still needed to be sorted out, she said.

The delegation would initially include only a few people but the team would grow depending on improvements in Iraq's security situation, she said.

"Security is still difficult but we see a need from Iraqi people to have us present there,'' the Commissioner underlined.

Ferrero-Waldner, who was in Iraq earlier this week as part of an E.U. "troika'' team which also included the bloc's foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said the meetings with key Iraqi leaders had focused on preparations for an international conference to be held in Brussels on June 21-22.

The meeting, to be co-chaired by the E.U. and the United States, would allow Iraq to present its priorities to the rest of the world, including neighbouring nations, Ferrero-Waldner said.

The upcoming conference and the E.U. visit to Baghdad showed that an earlier split among E.U. states over the pros and cons of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was now a thing of the past, she added. dpa si ms


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