| Governing council member Akila al-Hashemi was wounded in an attack in Baghdad by unidentified gunmen. She was out of danger but one of her bodyguards was critically wounded. (AFP)
Berlin, Sept. 20 (Reuters): Europe’s three biggest powers tried to mend their rift over Iraq today but French President Jacques Chirac said differences with Britain remained.
“Our views are not quite convergent,” Chirac said after a Berlin summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Chirac and Schroeder, fierce opponents of the US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein, now want a much more influential role for the UN and a faster transition to democracy in Iraq. “It’s important to give the UN a bigger role,” Schroeder said. “On the technicalities and timetable, we are still not fully agreed,” Chirac added.
He restated France’s position that Iraq, now under US administration, must regain sovereignty within months. US secretary of state Colin Powell has ridiculed the notion that Washington could hand back power overnight. Chirac was far less upbeat than Blair, who stressed the common ground between the three leaders.
“We all want to see a stable Iraq. We all want to see Iraq make a transition to democratic government as swiftly as possible. We all want to see, and know there must be, a key role for the UN,” Blair said. “I think whatever the different positions on the conflict, the entire world has an interest in seeing those things happen. For myself, I am sure that whatever differences there are, they can be resolved, and I am sure they will be.”
The brief summit offered an opportunity for all sides to mend relations badly damaged by Blair’s unswerving support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in March. But the political differences were reflected in the body language: Schroeder’s polite welcoming handshake with Blair was conspicuously cooler than his jovial backslapping with Chirac. The United States is now seeking a new UN Security Council resolution to help share out the huge financial and security burden of rebuilding post-war Iraq.
It badly needs such help as its 130,000 troops in Iraq suffer almost daily casualties from guerrilla attacks. President George W. Bush last week sent Congress an $87 billion plan to fund military operations and reconstruction efforts.
A fresh UN mandate could not only help to mend the rift between Washington, Berlin and Paris, but could also pave the way for countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey to contribute troops.
Chirac and Schroeder are both due to meet President George W. Bush next week at the UN in New York, and the question of Iraq is set to dominate those meetings. Bush and Blair sent their troops to invade Iraq in March, accusing Saddam of developing weapons of mass destruction.