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Europe

Berlin, Paris, Warsaw Try to Heal Iraq Rift

The leaders of France, Germany and Poland agreed to disagree over the Iraq war at the Weimar Triangle summit on Friday, but vowed not to let their differences jeopardize relations.

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Seeking common ground -- German Chancellor Schröder, Polish President Kwasniewski (center) and French President Chirac in Wroclaw on Friday.

Iraq may not officially have figured on the agenda at the so-called Weimar Triangle summit in the southwestern Polish city of Wroclaw on Friday, but the leaders of Germany, France and Poland could not sidestep the issue that has once again strained ties between their countries in recent days.

In an obvious attempt to put aside deep divisions over Iraq, Chancellor Schröder of Germany, French President Chirac and Polish President Kwasniewski pledged not to let their differences get in the way of European expansion.

Warsaw’s determination to play a key role in keeping the peace in postwar Iraq has drawn the scorn of Berlin and Paris at what they see as Poland's upstart ambitions. Washington has offered Poland leadership of a 7,000-strong multinational force to secure peace in the northern military zone in Iraq as a reward for its strong backing of the U.S. military campaign.

Schröder plays down German criticism towards Poland

This week Poland angered Berlin when its defense minister told a U.S. newspaper that he intended to ask Denmark and Germany to contribute to Warsaw’s division and help with military logistics of the planned operation. It is widely believed that the Polish army alone does not have the necessary experience for heading such an operation.

Germany’s Defense Minister Peter Struck frostily rejected the Polish proposal, saying Germany had no intention of sending soldiers to Iraq without a clear United Nations mandate along with backing from the German parliament. German newspaper editorials also mocked Poland’s offer to deploy 1,500 troops and lead a force in northern Iraq, with one calling Warsaw America's "Trojan donkey" and another describing the Poles as "insolent."

But in Wroclaw on Friday, Chancellor Schröder attemted to tone down Germany's strong rhetoric in recent days towards the Polish proposal. He said the Polish offer had been "communicated unfortunately," but added that a U.N. Security Council resolution could open the way for Germany to play a role.

"We will do what we can to rebuild Iraq, as long as it is under the auspices of the United Nations," Schröder told a joint news conference.

Chirac strikes conciliatory note

Poland’s refusal to toe Germany and France’s anti-war line in the months leading up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and its eventual military support for the American campaign in the form of a small troop contingent has led to sharp tensions with its western partners.

In February, French President Jacques Chirac admonished EU candidate countries, in particular Poland, for supporting President Bush and publishing an open declaration of their backing instead of keeping their mouths shut. He warned the candidate countries their pro-U.S. stance could harm their EU accession prospects.

The trenchant French position incensed Warsaw, which is still believed to be smarting from the bruising insult. It is reported that a walkabout for the three leaders on the streets of Wroclaw on Friday has been cancelled after French fears that President Jacques Chirac might be jeered by local people.

For his part, Chirac struck a conciliatory note but still urged closer dialog among future EU partners.

"When you are building a family, before taking an external position, you need a minimum of consultation--and at least to tell the other family members," Chirac told reporters. He said France was prepared to discuss how to rebuild Iraq. "Our goal is economic reconstruction and restoration of full sovereignty."

Poland defends its Iraq moves

But despite the obvious tensions over Iraq that are expected to overshadow the summit -- set up in 1991 originally to help anchor newly-democratic Poland in western Europe -- the Poles have struck a conciliatory tone and are casting it in a favorable light.

At the summit, Kwasniewski defended Poland's bid to play a role in postwar Iraq. He insisted that that it was possible to be both a reliable EU ally and a backer of Washington.

However, Kwasniewski made it clear that the French and German leaders could not point fingers at Poland’s Iraq policy. "If it (discussions) go in the other direction then I have my own arguments as to who is doing the dividing," he said. "Namely a French-German-Belgian-Luxembourg initiative that is seen as being against the U.S. and against NATO."

Compiled by DW-World staff from wire reports

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