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Schroeder, Bush bury hatchet

United Nations, Sept. 24 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder laid to rest their dispute over the Iraq war today but the US quest for foreign troops to share the burden of occupation remained elusive.

Bush and Schroeder met on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session dominated by the Iraq issue and told reporters their past differences were over. Schroeder made outspoken opposition to military action against Iraq the centrepiece of his re-election campaign last year, infuriating Washington.

The German leader pledged economic assistance for reconstruction and training for Iraqi police and soldiers in Germany, but not peacekeepers on the ground, saying German forces were fully stretched in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

“I have told the President how very much we would like to come in and help with the resources that we do have,” he said.

Bush, whose doctrine of “pre-emptive” war came under fierce criticism on the first day of the annual UN gathering, said of his relations with Schroeder: “Look, we’ve had differences, and they’re over, and we’re going to work together.”

Despite conciliatory comments from several countries, the scars from the diplomatic battle over the Iraq war were evident at the UN General Assembly’s annual ministerial session, and no country has so far come forward to offer more troops.

Facing continuing and increasingly deadly attacks, the US has 131,000 troops in Iraq, and other foreign troops, most from Britain and Poland, number about 23,000. The military costs are running about $1 billion a week.

The US is rewriting its proposed Security Council resolution that calls for UN authorisation for a multinational force in an effort to attract troops and other aid from countries unwilling to be part of an occupying force.

But foreign secretary Jack Straw of Britain, Washington’s main comrade-in-arms in Iraq, appeared to acknowledge that even with a new resolution few extra soldiers might be forthcoming in the near future.

“The main purpose of the resolution is much more what I describe as psychological-political than it is in terms of providing an extra thousand troops here or a thousand troops there,” Straw said.

Schroeder stressed the importance of multilateralism, but in milder terms than French President Jacques Chirac, who chastised the Bush administration yesterday for taking international law into its own hands.

France kept up pressure for a swift transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis today, a day after Chirac and Bush failed to settle their differences on the pace of a hand over.

Foreign minister Dominique de Villepin told the Security Council: “Lasting stabilisation of Iraq will require more than soldiers and money... It is equally imperative to replace the restoration of sovereignty at the centre of our actions and unite all the components of the Iraqi people around a political project that attracts support.”

Schroeder said there were still differences on the timetable, “but since both sides want to transfer government powers to Iraqis, the time frame must be bridgeable.”

Chirac, Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who united earlier this year to oppose UN blessing for the war, met again today in an effort to coordinate policies. Chirac said they had agreed to work together on a new UN resolution “in a positive and constructive spirit.”

Asked whether the Schroeder-Bush rapprochement left France isolated, he said: “There is not the slightest shadow or a difference between the French and German positions. That is absolutely clear and incontestable.”

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