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The World | THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Iraqi President Thanks U.S., Promises Progress

The interim leader tells the G-8 summit that his nation is committed to democracy. Bush, Chirac clash over the role of NATO in the country.

June 10, 2004|Edwin Chen and Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writers

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Iraqi interim President Ghazi Ajil Yawer thanked the American people Wednesday for their sacrifices and said his country was "moving in

"We are working with all our hearts to make sure that all these sacrifices of the Iraqis, as well as our friends in the coalition," will not be wasted, said Yawer, appearing for the first time with President Bush.

But at an otherwise harmonious Group of 8 economic summit at Sea Island near here, Bush and French President Jacques Chirac again found themselves at odds, this time over the role of NATO in Iraq, as Chirac questioned Bush's suggestion of a greater presence of the alliance there.

Over a one-on-one breakfast Wednesday, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the possibility of an expanded role for North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Iraq.

"We believe NATO ought to be involved," Bush told reporters after his meeting with Blair. "We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the role that now exists and, hopefully, expand it somewhat."

Blair, appearing with Bush, agreed. "The next step in this is going to be for the new Iraqi government to sit down with a multinational force and work out how, over time, the Iraqi capability for security can be established and built up," the prime minister said.

But Chirac said at a separate news conference that he did not think it was NATO's "mission" to intervene in Iraq. "Nor do I think it would be relevant or well understood in Iraq," he said. "I have reservations about this initiative."

The French president nevertheless left the door open, saying he would reconsider his view if the interim government scheduled to assume sovereignty in Iraq on June 30 requested NATO assistance.

More than half of the 26 NATO member nations already have troops in Iraq, and NATO provides logistical help for a Polish-led division there.

The issue is likely to resurface at month's end, during a NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey.

Iraq and the wider Mideast were persistent themes at the economic summit, which ends today. The president and First Lady Laura Bush are to return to Washington tonight, when they are scheduled to head directly from Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland to the Capitol to pay respects to the late President Reagan.

Bush, who invited Yawer to the summit of industrialized nations, called it "a special day for me" because "I really never thought I'd be sitting next to an Iraqi president of a free country a year and a half ago."

Yawer acknowledged the U.S. role in bringing him to the G-8 meeting and credited America for bringing Iraq back into the family of nations.

"I'd like to express to you the commitment of the Iraqi people to move toward democracy," Yawer told Bush. "We are moving in ... steady steps toward it. We're determined to have a free, democratic, federal Iraq, a country that is a source of stability to the Middle East, which is very important to the rest of the world."

Neither Bush nor Yawer took questions. Bush said he and Yawer had "a wonderful talk," and then told the interim leader that the U.S. "supports a transfer of full sovereignty to you, Mr. President, and your government." He also expressed his "great faith" in Iraq's future.

"It's been a proud day for me. I'm glad you're here," Bush told Yawer.

Yawer's presence at Sea Island highlighted a day in which leaders of the world's wealthiest nations also endorsed Bush's Middle East initiative calling for democratic reforms in the region.

The G-8 leaders also approved, largely at Bush's request, a one-year moratorium on the sale of enrichment and reprocessing technologies that could help produce nuclear fuel, to nations that do not already have such capability.

The leaders embraced a modified version of a U.S. plan for promoting reforms in the Middle East, seven months after Bush pledged to launch a "forward strategy for freedom" in the region. They issued a political statement and a "support plan" that outlined specific programs, but identified no specific funds toward those efforts.

The step came after G-8 leaders lunched with Yawer and the leaders of Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria and Bahrain at the secluded resort. The leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco declined invitations to attend.

The final document reflected months of tough negotiations among the United States, other G-8 members and Mideast governments. Its modest approach is likely to disappoint some reformers in the region.

Still, diplomats here said the document signaled an important coming together of the G-8 nations on the need for reform in a war-ravaged, unstable region.

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