Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Schroeder and Bush get all chummy on a balmy Georgia isle


French President Jacques Chirac played the political bad boy at this year's G8 summit by disrupting new trans-Atlantic harmony with a Gallic non to calls by his US hosts for a bigger NATO role in Iraq.

Chirac's comments made banner media headlines around the world on Thursday, stealing coverage of the G8 initiative aimed at promoting democracy and reform throughout the Middle East.

What a contrast to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who along with Chirac opposed the Iraq war but who deftly used the annual G8 summit at Georgia's luxury Sea Island resort to restore ties with the host, US President George W. Bush.

Asked by reporters about Chirac's reservations over NATO in Iraq, Schroeder took a strikingly different position.

"We will not block this," Schroeder said.

After the briefing, German officials scrambled to insist there was no real discord between Paris and Berlin.

"There are no differences between Germany and France over a deployment of NATO in Iraq," Schroeder said, according to a later statement by his chief spokesman Bela Anda.

Schroeder said it was not a question of NATO taking control in Iraq but rather of using the alliance to train Iraqi security forces as well as for other tasks.

This was confirmed by a senior US official who said that with or without NATO, there would not be large numbers of new troops going to Iraq, where US-led coalition forces now number more than 160,000.

NATO, 15 of whose 26 member states have troops serving in Iraq, is currently limited to providing logistical support to the Polish-run sector in Iraq.

On Wednesday, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for an expanded NATO role in

Iraq but declined to give details

on exactly what they wanted. Concrete proposals were expected at NATO's Istanbul summit on June 28 and 29.

Chirac promptly rebuffed them.

"It does not fit with the vocation of NATO to intervene in Iraq," Chirac declared.

Contrasting with the Bush-Chirac differences, Schroeder and Bush used the relaxed summit atmosphere to forge a new working relationship.

Maybe it was the balmy weather, beach and palm trees that gave the final push to both leaders to bury the hatchet after their Iraq war feud.

As the two leaders met on the G8 sidelines, Bush's dog Barney also helped break the ice by taking a snooze between their feet.

Schroeder, who thrives in warmer regions, was delighted about the weather and swiftly followed Bush's advice over the dress code for the summit and shed his customary tie and jacket.

His attire contrasted with Chirac, who was the only leader stiffly dressed in full tie and jacket for the working sessions for the G8, which consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US.

US officials were strongly upbeat after the private meeting between Bush and Schroeder on the G8 sidelines, saying the talks had been "very warm."

"We and the Germans have come back together," a senior official said.

Asked about the praise being heaped on him by Bush aides, Schroeder smiled and said, "It's nice that this is what's being talked about."

"We know we have to depend on each other and sometimes having disagreements is just a part of this," Schroeder said, adding that the key to good German-US ties was that both nations had a deep set of shared values.

"The [United States] is the only remaining superpower, and one must learn how to deal with that, and the last six months have shown that we can do this," Schroeder said.

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