Iraq: Chirac against NATO role

The United States and France have clashed again over Iraq, with their new harmony on post-war strategy dissolving over NATO's role.

    Chirac (L) and Bush had been getting on better lately

    The spat ignited after President George Bush, bolstered by the United Nations

    Security Council green light for his bid to remake Iraq, went on the

    offensive, calling at the Group of Eight summit in Georgia for a greater NATO

    role in the country.

    "We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the

    role that now exists and hopefully expand it somewhat," Bush told

    reporters on Wednesday after breakfast with top war ally, British

    Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    But French President Jacques Chirac, who led world opposition to

    the US invasion of Iraq last year, put up an immediate roadblock.

    Discord

    "I do not think that it is NATO's job to intervene in Iraq,"

    Chirac said.

    "Moreover, I do not have the feeling that it would be either

    timely or necessarily well understood.

    I see myself with strong reservations on this initiative."

    "I do not think that it is NATO's job to intervene in Iraq.

    Moreover, I do not have the feeling that it would be either

    timely or necessarily well understood.

    I see myself with strong reservations on this initiative"

    French President Chirac

    Although the United States, Britain and other NATO members have

    troops in Iraq, the alliance has no real formal role in the country.

    Discord over Iraq came as the planet's most powerful men put on

    a show of unity

    , but their smiles masked wide

    differences.

    Iraq diplomacy had looked set to move forward after France and

    Germany, vehement opponents of the war, backed the UN Security

    Council resolution granting Iraqi sovereignty and allowing US troops

    to remain.

    Bush also tried to prevent his watered down plans for a social,

    political and economic shakedown of the Middle East and northern

    Africa from fizzling out completely.

    Arab concerns

    Egypt and Saudi Arabia, alarmed by the implications of the

    initiative, declined an invitation to the millionaires' playground on

    the US east coast hosting the three-day summit.

    Europe too has signalled it believes threats to the West from

    the Middle East can best be eased by first draining the

    Israeli-Palestinian bloodbath.

    The White House is pushing a "Broader Middle East and North

    Africa Initiative" to promote political, social and economic

    reforms, and has rejected calls to shelve the strategy until the

    Israeli-Palestinian conflict cools.

    But European Commission chief Romano Prodi warned on Tuesday

    that

    "the mother of all conflicts is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict",

    arguing only peace in the Holy Land would spur reform and Western

    oriented policies in the region.

    European Union officials said that any US focus on the Middle East

    was welcome, but diplomatic adviser to the European Commission

    Stefano Sanino said Europe had been working on the same lines for

    years. "For us there is nothing new in this," he said.

    Iraq debt

    Sources in Cairo said Egypt and Saudi Arabia fear they are first

    on the Washington wish list for political, social and economic reform

    and declined an invitation to attend the summit.

    Occupation forces are regularly
    targeted by the Iraqi resistance

    Tunisia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League,

    followed suit, but the leaders of Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen

    accepted Bush's invitation.

    Europe and the United States were also struggling to close gaps

    on another issue crucial to Iraq's future - the mountain of debt it

    owes creditor nations.

    A French official said the powers had agreed to forgive a

    "substantial" part of Iraq's $120 billion foreign debt. But other

    sources said they were still haggling on a precise figure.

    US officials have called for the forgiveness of the "vast

    majority" of Iraq's debt obligations. But France and Germany have

    balked at writing off such a large sum.

    The Group of Eight consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany,

    Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

    SOURCE: AFP


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