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Bush senses unity spirit on Iraq

Paris, June 5 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush said today he sensed a spirit of unity in the international community to help Iraq that would result soon in a UN Security Council resolution, but Russia and France kept pressing demands.

Several thousand anti-war protesters gathered in Paris as Bush went into talks with President Jacques Chirac that he hopes will improve ties between the two countries strained by the Iraq war, which France opposed.

Chirac, whose country has a veto on the Security Council, wants a fixed timetable for withdrawing US-led forces from Iraq. Russia, another veto-wielding member, also wants changes to a US and British draft resolution endorsing a handover to an Iraqi interim government on June 30. “I sense a spirit of unity in terms of working with the new Iraqi government,” Bush told a news conference in Rome earlier.

“I’m confident we will get (a resolution) soon,” he said.

Bush thanked Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of his closest allies in Europe, for helping to negotiate with some Security Council members who opposed the Iraq war.

In his weekly radio address to Americans, Bush said Iraq was on the path to democracy and could be a regional force for change. Iraq was “closer to realising the hope of millions of Iraqis, a fully sovereign nation”, he said.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said he hoped for a deal on the UN resolution “in the next couple of days”.

“As of this morning, we are very, very close to completing the work,” Powell told reporters travelling on Bush’s plane. “With the receipt of the Allawi letter, this puts us much closer to the finishing line.”

The draft resolution endorses Iraq’s new interim government and establishes a US-led multinational force to provide security as the country tries to arrange elections in January.

US and British officials believe only minor adjustments will be needed to win support from the 15-nation Security Council, where the draft needs at least nine votes and no veto.

“We cannot say that it satisfies us entirely. We, therefore, believe further work is vital to reach agreement,” Russian deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Anti-Iraq war protesters gathered for a march through Paris, but police kept them away from the presidential Elysee palace where Bush and Chirac met.

“Bush — Terrorist number one!”, said one banner. Another said: “No French troops in military operations in Iraq”.

“I hope the United States will wake up and that young people will stand up against the war,” said Micheline Entine, 70.

France, which has refused to send troops to Iraq, thwarted Bush’s attempt to secure a Security Council resolution last year authorising war against Iraq.

Bush’s visit to Rome took place against a backdrop of anti-war protests and violence in Iraq, where another US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb blast today.

Thousands of protesters opposed to the US-led occupation of Iraq marched in Rome yesterday. There were skirmishes but it was not the mayhem many feared. Berlusconi called it a “flop”.

Italy has some 2,700 troops in Iraq, the third largest foreign contingent after U.S. and British forces.

Berlusconi reiterated a vow to keep troops in Iraq as long as an Iraqi government set to take power next January wants.

On Friday, the United States and Britain proposed giving Iraq's new leaders the right to send home foreign troops, a concession Baghdad's foreign minister said would speed up adoption of a U.. resolution on Iraq's future.

On Sunday, Bush goes to Normandy to mark the 60th anniversary of the Second World war D-Day invasion.

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