Blair and Chirac in student Q and A in Paris

10th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 9 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac on Sunday tried to show the Entente Cordiale is alive and well, pledging to work together to ensure a smooth transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.

PARIS, May 9 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac on Sunday tried to show the Entente Cordiale is alive and well, pledging to work together to ensure a smooth transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.

At a question-and-answer session with 400 French and British students to mark Europe Day, the two leaders also expressed their faith in the newly expanded European Union, saying Turkey would eventually join the bloc.

"We have a lot more points in common than we have divergences," Chirac told the forum in the ornate Elysee presidential palace.

The proposed European Union constitution, Iraq, Turkey's EU bid, climate change, sustainable development - the bilingual university students quizzed the leaders on a variety of topics for 90 minutes.

But Iraq and the proposed EU constitution dominated the lunchtime talks between Chirac, Blair and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, officials said.

Chirac and Blair agreed to work together to hammer out a deal in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution backing the June 30 handover of power to the Iraqi people, Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna told reporters.

The two leaders - who were at odds over the war to topple Saddam Hussein - discussed "what should be included in a new UN Security Council resolution to help ensure that the process of a return to sovereignty unfolds smoothly," she said.

UN special envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi reportedly intends to invite technocrats to form the interim government after the June 30 handover and stay in power until January elections, but Washington has balked at that plan.

"It is therefore very urgent to transfer, without any ambiguity, the reality of sovereignty and powers to a truly Iraqi authority recognized as such by the Iraqi people," Chirac said, calling for a reinforced UN role in Iraq.

For his part, Blair said he hoped the UN Security Council would reach an agreement to support the "proper and full transfer of sovereignty" in the war-ravaged country.

"It is in the interest of everybody that Iraq stabilizes and becomes a prosperous and democratic country," the British prime minister added.

On the EU constitution, Chirac and Blair expressed their confidence that a compromise text would be reached in time for a mid-June summit of EU leaders.

"If we don't reach an agreement on the constitution, we risk creating a
Europe that is paralyzed," Chirac warned.

Blair defended his surprise decision to hold a referendum on the text, telling the students: "It's time to decide whether we want to be key central players in Europe or whether we want to be at the margins of influence. It is in Britain's national interest to be at the center of Europe."

But Blair needs to win further concessions on the EU constitution to secure a "yes" vote, and he told Chirac at lunch that London would not give up veto power over taxation, foreign policy, defense and social policy, officials said.

Both Blair and Chirac said Turkey would one day join the European Union, but said the process would be long and difficult.

The British prime minister highlighted the importance of EU-US relations, saying Europe should have "the cohesion and strength to be a strong partner, not a rival, but not a servant either, of the United States."

Blair's visit came as France and Britain celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, the agreement that ended the two nations' historic rivalry and opened an unprecedented era of cross-Channel friendship.

It also came on Europe Day. On May 9, 1950, the first move was made toward the formation of the European Union when then French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the creation of an organized Europe.

Blair and Raffarin celebrated Europe Day with 600 students at the prime minister's Matignon residence, before touching on the themes of the day in a live joint interview on French news channel LCI.

Blair met with French Socialist leader Francois Hollande before heading back to London.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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