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Bush, Chirac Pledge to Cooperate on Iraq

In Paris, the leaders seek to focus on common ground. Remarks by the French president about a chaotic occupation underscore differences.

June 06, 2004|Edwin Chen and Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writers

PARIS — President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac pledged Saturday to work together to help rebuild Iraq, but they continued to remain at odds, as Chirac called the situation "extremely precarious" while Bush claimed major progress toward a free and democratic country.

The leaders sought to emphasize their common ground as they prepared to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion, one of the moments when the United States and France were closest. But their ongoing differences over Iraq were clearly evident.

During a joint news conference, Chirac said he was pleased that the "tyrannical regime" of Saddam Hussein was gone, but added: "What's less positive is that there is a degree of chaos prevailing."

The French president again took issue with Bush's justification for the invasion of Iraq, which Bush often compares to the liberation of Europe 60 years ago. "History does not repeat itself, and it is very difficult to compare historical situations that differ," Chirac said.

Bush said he appreciated the discussions with Chirac and took a conciliatory tone.

"The Iraqi people want and deserve freedom, peace and prosperity, and the nations of the world have a responsibility to help them achieve that," Bush said. "Members of the U.N. Security Council are working with Iraq's new leaders toward a new resolution that will express international support for Iraq's interim government, that will reaffirm the world's security commitment to the Iraqi nation, and encourage other U.N. members to help in joining the Iraqi people as they establish a representative government."

As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France could veto any resolution on Iraq. Chirac pointedly withheld his endorsement of an emerging draft resolution, to be presented to the Security Council, that would formalize international recognition of the new interim Iraqi government. But at their private dinner, Chirac told Bush that he believed the Security Council would eventually unanimously adopt the final language of the resolution, a senior Bush administration official said.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet today to discuss a new version of the resolution that would give Iraq's interim government the right to ask the multinational force to leave at any time -- a significant concession by the U.S. and Britain, made with the hope that the incoming leaders won't use it. The council will also discuss an exchange of letters between Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the U.S. command outlining the parameters of security cooperation in Iraq.

The letters, according to a copy made available to The Times, address the intent to consult and coordinate on "fundamental security and policy issues ... [and] on sensitive offensive operations." The letters also note that Iraq would maintain control over its forces and police, but not multinational troops. Nor would Iraq have jurisdiction over American or other troops that violate local or international laws.

Iraq has been a key issue during Bush's European tour. The administration had hoped to smooth relations with long-standing allies who opposed last year's invasion and the current bloody occupation.

Yet, within hours in two major European capitals, Paris and Rome, Bush's presence highlighted less a sense of common purpose than a lingering transatlantic discord that threatens to undermine international efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Until now, much of that friction had been cloaked in diplomatic niceties. At a minimum, the leaders have insisted that past disagreements are history and that it is time to move on.

But the festering tensions surfaced during a news conference by Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in effect pitting them against Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Chirac had worked with Schroeder to block Bush's intentions to invade Iraq.

More recently, Chirac further antagonized Bush by including Schroeder, but pointedly snubbing Berlusconi, when asking leaders to attend today's ceremonies. Schroeder promptly accepted, arguing that the invasion helped free Germany from the Nazi regime.

Thus, in a show of solidarity with Berlusconi, Bush scrubbed a stop in England and instead went to Rome.

When asked at their joint news conference about the French snub, Berlusconi said that he was pleased to have the company of Bush to himself, in Rome, rather than in the company of world leaders in France.

"It was much more valuable to have just for Italy, only for Rome and for us, a representative of the American people -- rather than being part of one celebration where there are going to be 17 prime ministers," Berlusconi said. "So I'd rather have him here, alone, than going there, one of 17."

The lingering bad feelings are not surprising, said Charles A. Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

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