European foes of war to meet on postwar Iraq
By Aliza Marcus, Globe Correspondent, 04/11/2003
BERLIN -- The leaders of Germany, France, and Russia, the three main opponents of the US-led war in Iraq, meet today in St. Petersburg to map their vision for a post-Saddam Hussein era, a vision that could heighten their problems with Washington if they insist on a primary role for the United Nations.
President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia are pushing for the United Nations to take over immediately the running and rebuilding of Iraq, while President Bush has indicated the allies will take the leading role with UN assistance.
But the Americans have not yet defined precisely their concept of the UN role. And one US official yesterday suggested the three nations make a strong first step -- by writing off billions of dollars they lent Iraq under Hussein's rule.
The insistence by France, Germany, and Russia on a leading role for the United Nations has several motivations, such as ensuring that Washington does not have sole control over what happens to Iraq politically and economically.
But political analysts in Berlin, where Schroeder made opposition to a US attack the mainstay of his fall election campaign, said the three countries needed to tread carefully if they want to patch up relations with the Bush administration.
"I think that Schroeder choosing to meet Putin and Chirac in their own mini-summit is fine, but it is exactly the wrong signal and the wrong time," said Jeffrey Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, a think tank.
"If they can come up with something that sounds like they are trying to bridge differences, then the summit will be a success," he said. "But if they take the moral high ground and use words like `must,' then it will be a disaster."
The meeting in St. Petersburg was originally planned as a German-Russian summit, but at the last minute Putin invited Chirac, said a German government spokesman.
The anti war triumvirate has given off conflicting messages about their intentions and interests ever since US and allied British troops marched into Baghdad this week and the Iraqi leadership crumbled.
Schroeder promised that Germany will remain engaged with Iraq and doubled the amount of promised humanitarian aid to about $80 million. But at the same time, he has not retracted his opposition to the war -- although he said he was pleased that it appeared the war would soon be over -- nor wavered in his insistence that the United Nations handle things once the fighting stops.
"The issue now is to form as fast as possible a democratic, legitimate government and to begin the reconstruction process under the umbrella of the United Nations," he told RTL Television yesterday.
"If one wants stability in the region, if one wants lasting peace, then one will need the United Nations, and my impression is that this is also in the interests of the United States and British," he said in the transcript made available by the government.
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France, who was particularly sharp and critical during the UN Security Council debates that took place before the invasion, has also expressed his pleasure at the end of Hussein's rule.
"With the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, it is a dark page that is turned, and we are delighted," de Villepin said yesterday at a meeting of European and Arab ministers.
US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had a suggestion for the three European nations when he testified yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"I hope, for example, they'll think about the very large debts that come from money that was lent to the dictator to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of repression," Reuters quoted him as saying.
"I think they ought to consider whether it might not be appropriate to forgive some or all of that debt, so that the new Iraqi government isn't burdened with it," he said.
The French newspaper Liberation said yesterday that people were "still waiting for the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction which was invoked to justify the conflict."
Germany's Tagesspiegel ran a front-page commentary lauding the historic moment that Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad, but said, "The good way the war is going does not undo the violation of law of a war without a UN mandate."
Globe correspondent Brian Whitmore contributed to this report from Prague.