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Schroeder, Chirac, Blair to try to heal Iraq rift
( 2003-09-17 09:28) (Agencies)

Germany, France and Britain agreed Tuesday to talks on narrowing their differences over Iraq's future and the role of the United Nations in it.

And in a diplomatic boost to Baghdad's U.S.-installed leaders, OPEC invited Iraq to a meeting of the oil cartel.

France and Germany want a bigger U.N. role in Iraq and a quicker transfer of power to Iraqis themselves -- matters sure to be discussed next weekend with Britain, the strongest supporter of the U.S.-led war that deposed Saddam Hussein.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will host French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Berlin.

"The meeting serves to agree to common positions in foreign policy after there were divergent opinions in the run-up to the Iraq war," the German government said in a statement.

With forces in Iraq suffering almost daily casualties from guerrilla attacks and costs of the occupation mounting, the United States wants support for a new U.N. resolution that would keep it in charge but bring in other states' money and troops.

U.N. talks in Geneva on Iraq last weekend failed to end differences between the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

The Iraq war opened up deep divisions in Europe, souring relations between backers of the U.S.-led invasion like Britain, Spain and Poland and vocal opponents led by France and Germany, who thwarted Britain's bid for a U.N. mandate for the conflict

France, Russia and Germany, which holds a rotating seat on the Security Council, have all criticized the resolution drafted by President Bush's administration.


A French foreign ministry spokesman said France wanted fast international recognition of Iraqi sovereignty -- preferably within a month -- but accepted it could take time before a full handover of power by U.S. forces was possible.

Blair's new special representative to Iraq said Britain wanted authority to be transferred to Iraqis as fast as possible, but local leaders first had to draw up a constitution and prepare for elections.

"If that can be done, and it depends on Iraqis to do it, in a squeezed timetable, the United Kingdom is all for accelerating that process," Sir Jeremy Greenstock said in Baghdad.

Greenstock also said it was clear Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was involved in Iraq's postwar violence.

Attackers have killed 73 U.S. soldiers since the United States declared major combat over in Iraq on May 1. In the latest violence, three soldiers were wounded when they drove over an explosive device south of Baghdad Tuesday.

A leading Bush administration hawk accused Syria of failing to stop militants crossing the border into Iraq to kill Americans. Undersecretary of State John Bolton also said the United States must keep open the option of using "every tool" -- code for the remote possibility of military action -- to dissuade Syria and others from pursuing chemical, biological or atomic weapons.

Syria, which denies U.S. accusations that it "supports terrorism," said earlier Tuesday it was happy to help to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq if the Security Council set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.


The Iraqi Oil Ministry said its new minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, would lead a delegation to a conference of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna September 24.

That would give further credibility to the Governing Council, particularly in the Arab world, after Iraq's new foreign minister attended an Arab League ministerial meeting in Cairo last week.

It would also ease OPEC concerns that an eventual sovereign Iraqi government might quit the cartel and its output restraints system, raising output from the world's second-largest reserves and undermining oil prices in future.

Before the war, the United States and Britain said Saddam was trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.

But no such arms have been found and a senior scientist at Baghdad's new Ministry of Science and Technology said Tuesday Iraq never revived its secret nuclear arms program after U.N. inspectors dismantled it in the 1990s.

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