PARIS -- The European Community decided yesterday against meeting Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz this week, as the probability of a U.S.-Iraqi dialogue grew increasingly slim.
Foreign ministers of the 12-nation body, meeting in Brussels, said they would stick by their decision earlier this month to meet Mr. Aziz on his way back from Washington.
Because Mr. Aziz did not meet President Bush Monday as planned, European Community leaders decided to put off their own meeting with him.
"Europe does not want to lend itself to any bid by Iraq to drive a wedge between the EC and the United States," said Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek.
"We must maintain the pressure on Iraq," said Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission.
The meeting between Mr. Aziz and Mr. Bush was canceled after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein proposed Jan. 12 as the only date for a parallel visit to Baghdad by U.S. Secretary State James A. Baker III.
Such a late meeting, the U.S. administration said, would not leave enough time for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait before the Jan. 15 deadline imposed by the latest U.N. Security Council resolution.
U.S. officials in the past have warned against diplomatic contacts with Iraq, on the ground that such contacts could lead Iraq to believe its occupation of Kuwait would eventually be accepted by the world community.
But yesterday, Mr. Baker took a hands-off approach to any meeting between the European Community amd Mr. Aziz.
"We support . . . any diplomatic efforts that might result in a peaceful solution," he told a news conference in Brussels. "We don't foreclose and we don't discourage them.
"The one thing we do discourage . . . are discordant messages, mixed messages or mixed signals."
Mr. Baker said that the U.S. administration felt confident the coalition would hold firm in its demand for "full and complete implementation of the Security Council resolution" and not be swayed by a last-minute partial withdrawal by Iraq shortly before the U.N.-imposed Jan. 15 deadline.
Should the U.S.-Iraqi meeting occur, they would still plan to meet with Mr. Aziz on his way back from Washington.
And if nothing had changed by Jan. 3, the last day Mr. Bush has said mutual meetings can be held, the European Community ministers said they would meet again Jan. 4 to reconsider the question.