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European powers disagree on plans for postwar Iraq

BERLIN — BERLIN - The leaders of Europe's three major powers failed to agree yesterday on a unified plan for postwar Iraq, but they called for a prominent United Nations role in rebuilding the country and for a return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

The two-hour summit among German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair underscored Europe's political differences as it seeks consensus on Iraq. Germany and France opposed the war and want the United States to relinquish control in Baghdad, while Britain - the Bush administration's closest ally - is against rushing an American transfer of power.

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"The three of us share the opinion that it is the task of the international community to [bring] democracy and stability to Iraq," said Schroeder during a 25-minute news conference after the summit. "We want to give the U.N. a significant role, and we need to hand over the political responsibility to Iraqi authorities as soon as possible. There are differences of opinion on how to achieve that."

Chirac said the three leaders "don't entirely agree on the means and timetable" for a broader U.N. presence and for the Iraqi government to assume control. France has been the most adamant in calling for the United States to cede political power almost immediately. In recent days, however, Chirac has appeared to soften his nation's stance by modifying demands that the United Nations be granted greater oversight within one month.

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The leaders met in an effort to reach a common position as the United Nations prepares this week to address a disputed U.S. draft resolution seeking international troops and billions of dollars in aid to rebuild Iraq.

Germany and France remain unsatisfied with the resolution, claiming that it allows the United States to retain too much authority. But Europe and America want to avoid the acrimony that surrounded the U.N. debate before the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein in March. That political storm weakened the United Nations and was the worst blow to trans-Atlantic relations in half a century.

"Whatever differences there have been about the conflict, we all want to see a stable and democratic Iraq," Blair said yesterday. "We all want to see Iraq make a transition to democracy as soon as possible, and we want to see a key role for the United Nations. ... The entire world is interested in seeing these things happen."

Blair is facing political troubles at home. His government is being accused of embellishing intelligence on Iraq to bolster Blair's claims that Hussein posed a threat to the world.

Yesterday's summit was a chance for Blair to improve Britain's relations with France and Germany at a time when more than 10,000 British troops are stationed in Iraq.

The Bush administration also is encountering growing domestic criticism over the war in Iraq and the cost of reconstruction. Bush recently asked Congress for $87 billion for military and reconstruction costs. Security in Iraq is unpredictable and the United States wants control of military command and does not want to be held to a timetable for when to turn authority over to the United Nations. European political analysts suggest that the United States may compromise on some issues if other countries contribute troops and money as part of an international effort.

Although Germany and France were united in their fervent opposition to the war, a gap between the two nations is widening over how to improve relations with the United States and participate in rebuilding Iraq without losing political credibility at home.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Times staff writer Christian Retzlaff contributed to this article.


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