PARIS — PARIS - President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that they were nearing agreement on a resolution that would give United Nations support to Iraq's new interim government and the U.S.-led multinational force there.
But in a joint news conference, it was apparent that sharp differences remain between the two over the war in Iraq.
Both leaders suggested that they would be able to settle outstanding issues on the resolution by the time Bush hosts Chirac and other leaders from the Group-of-Eight industrialized democracies for a three-day summit beginning Tuesday on Sea Island, Ga.
"We should be able to put the finishing touches to this text very shortly," Chirac said in a news conference with Bush at Elysee Palace.
"We share one and the same conviction today, namely that there is no alternative to restoring peace and, therefore, to restoring security and development in Iraq," Chirac said. "No effort must be spared in achieving this."
In their 25-minute news conference, however, the two leaders differed sharply over Iraq, reflecting the enduring strains the war there has left on Franco-American ties.
Chirac made clear that he remains deeply conflicted over the war, conceding at one point that "the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, and that is a positive thing," then going on to say that the U.S.-led mission there had led to "a degree of chaos."
"We have certainly not put the difficulties behind us; do not believe that," Chirac said in a reference to the continuing bloodshed in Iraq. "We are in a situation which is extremely precarious."
And, asked whether intelligence failings led leaders like Bush to conclude that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons that have yet to be found, Chirac shot back that he was never convinced the weapons were there in the first place.
"I have always said that I had no information that would lead me to believe that there were, or were not, for that matter, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That's a fact," Chirac said.
As he spoke, Bush, standing a few feet to Chirac's right, bit down hard on his lower lip and stared intently at the French leader.
"All the information available to us at that time and on that subject did not allow us to take a stand or to reach any conclusion," said Chirac, who also took issue with recent comparisons Bush has drawn between World War II and the global anti-terrorism campaign.
"History does not repeat itself, and it is very difficult to compare historical situations that differ," Chirac said.
The stark differences between the two leaders provided an odd backdrop for ceremonies scheduled for today in Normandy honoring the U.S. and allied troops who took part in the D-Day invasion that led to Europe's liberation from Nazi Germany.
Bush and Chirac were to attend a ceremony at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking a coastal stretch Allies named "Omaha Beach," the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the D-Day invasion.
"It will be a time to reflect on the sacrifices that helped to defeat fascism, and to restore the liberty of France and of Western Europe," Bush said, with Chirac at his side.
The effort to win a U.N. Security Council resolution backing Iraq's new interim government got a boost yesterday when Iraqi's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, sent a letter to the U.S.-led coalition authority in Baghdad describing how the 138,000 American troops there would continue to operate after the new interim authority assumes political control of the country June 30.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters traveling with Bush that the major issues were nearly resolved.
"I'm confident within a few days we'll be there," Powell told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One with Bush to Paris from Rome. "If the new sovereign government is satisfied, it would seem to me that should satisfy all of my colleagues in the Security Council."
France, Russia and China - all of which hold veto power as permanent members of the Security Council - have withheld support for the resolution pending assurances that the interim government in Iraq would have genuine control of the country.
The central issue has been the degree to which the interim government would have control over U.S. forces based in Iraq.
Bush has said U.S. forces would only remain with the consent of the interim government, which is to govern until national elections seat a provisional government in January.
"What is important is to ensure that the Iraqi people, that the Iraqis truly have the sense that they have recovered their independence, their sovereignty, and that they hold their own destiny in their hands," Chirac said. "I think that that is the only way forward if we want to solve the considerable problems that are arising in this country."