Blair and Chirac lock arms on Iraq's future

18th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Nov 18 (AFP) - Britain and France sought to bury their differences over the Iraq war once and for all Thursday, as their leaders said they were united in efforts to forge "a stable and democratic Iraq" in the coming months.

LONDON, Nov 18 (AFP) - Britain and France sought to bury their differences over the Iraq war once and for all Thursday, as their leaders said they were united in efforts to forge "a stable and democratic Iraq" in the coming months.

French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair bravely sought to put forward an image of solidarity as they faced reporters after summit talks in London.

"On the question of Iraq, I think the differences at the time of the conflict were well known," said Blair, an unwavering supporter of the US-led invasion in March 2003 that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

"But both of us are now working under UN Resolution 1546, both of us want to see a stable and democratic Iraq, and both of us will do what we can to ensure that that happens," he said.

Chirac, who had opposed the war, said Iraq was the "one and only issue" over which London and Paris had disagreed. He said there now were other, more pressing concerns to address, such as African poverty and climate change.

"Who is right or wrong (over Iraq), history will tell," he said.

Chirac agreed with Blair that, at this stage, Britain and France share the common goal of establishing a democratic and peaceful Iraq, where an ongoing insurgency against US-led forces threatens to derail elections set for January.

He said he was "taken aback" by claims in the French press suggesting divisions between Britain and France.

"They do not reflect either my own beliefs and certainly not the British government's or our experience of Franco-British cooperation," he said.

But he reiterated his view - expressed the night before in a BBC television interview - that he believed the world is a more dangerous place in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

"If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism - not just in the Middle East but throughout the world - if you look at all that, you cannot say, credibly, that the situation has significantly improved," he said.

Chirac arrived in London a week after Blair went to Washington to meet re-elected US President George W. Bush, who pledged to reach out to Europe in his second term as he pursues his war on terror.

On the Middle East, Blair said he and Chirac were "essentially agreed" on proposals hammered out with Bush on relaunching the peace process in the wake of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last week.

"The United Kingdom and France consider there is a window of opportunity that we could have a more stable order," added Chirac, "and we should do everything we can to achieve that."

Britain is to hold the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations, which includes France and the United States, in 2005, as well as that of the European Union in the second half of the new year.

Chirac's visit caps the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, the diplomatic pact that ended decades of Anglo-French imperial rivalry and sealed a sometimes-strained alliance between the two European powers.

Accompanied by six ministers and 40 French legislators, he began his day inspecting a guard of honour in the courtyard of the Foreign Office made up of British and French soldiers, before sitting down with Blair for talks.

He was to make a major speech on French foreign policy later in the day, then join Queen Elizabeth II for a special performance of "Les Miserables" at Windsor Palace, west of London, in the evening.

On Friday he will go to Oxford to meet students at the city's famous university.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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