"Our views are not quite convergent at the moment," Chirac told a news conference after the Berlin summit, reiterating France's position that there needed to be a rapid transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people within months.

   

"On the technicalities and timetable, we are still not fully agreed," he said, adding that the United Nations must play a much bigger role.

   

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the same news conference: "We all want to see a stable Iraq. We all want to see Iraq make a transition to democratic government as swiftly as possible. We all want to see, and know there must be, a key role for the United Nations."

 

Conflict

   

He added: "I think whatever the different positions on the conflict, the entire world has an interest in seeing those things happen. For myself, I am sure that whatever differences there are, they can be resolved, and I am sure they will be."  

 

Earlier, Schroeder opened talks with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bid to smooth differences over Iraq and help pave the way for a United Nations resolution to help stabilise and rebuild the country.

   

"The United Nations should quickly now take over a stronger role in Iraq," Schroeder said in an interview with the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper.

 

"On the technicalities and timetable, we are still not fully agreed"

Jacques Chirac
President, France

Blair is the closest ally of the US, which wants a new UN Security Council resolution to help share out the huge financial and security burden of rebuilding post-war Iraq.

   

France and Germany, which strongly opposed the United States-led invasion, seek a greater UN political role and a faster transfer of sovereignty from US administration to the Iraqi people.

 

Schroeder, sounding a conciliatory note, told Ruhr Nachrichten that Germany would play its part in bringing stability and democracy in Iraq.

   

"Germany is ready to take part in reconstruction projects in Iraq, if the security of our people is guaranteed and the financing is in place," he said.

   

Schroeder and Chirac will hold separate meetings with Bush at the UN next week. A fresh UN mandate may not only help to mend the rift between Washington, Berlin and Paris, but also pave the way for countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey to contribute troops.

   

Washington badly needs such help as its 130,000 troops in Iraq suffer almost daily casualties from resistance attacks. President George Bush last week sent Congress a $87 billion plan to fund military operations and reconstruction efforts.