The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blair, Chirac meet to soothe war nerves

London, Nov. 24 (Reuters): Britain’s Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac sought to soothe the acrimony generated by the war against Saddam Hussein at a one-day summit today expected to focus on Iraq’s reconstruction.

Chirac was welcomed to London with a ceremonial guard of honour before heading into the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office for some three hours of talks. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will also take part in discussions.

The Anglo-French summit comes just three days after a state visit by US President George W. Bush and analysts say it will test to the limit Blair’s claim to be able to act as a bridge between Europe and America.

Chirac was the most implacable opponent of the US-led conflict in Iraq and Anglo-French relations reached a low in the build-up to the war when London accused Paris of scuppering a UN resolution authorising military action.

Fences have been partially mended since then but tensions remain over Iraq and other issues, not least Franco-German plans for EU defence that Washington fears could rival rather than complement Nato. Blair’s spokesman handed out an olive branch of sorts. “At times we act together, at times we speak together, at times we have to speak bluntly about our differences,” he said, adding that the Prime Minister valued Chirac as an ally.

Blair had always been in favour of closer EU cooperation, the spokesman said, but would only accept a defence capability that would be “compatible but not compete” with Nato.

France and Germany want a planning and operational military headquarters for an EU force, independent of Nato, a move Britain opposes. British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon will hold talks with his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie.

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