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Europe

Europe’s Heavyweights to Discuss Iraq

The leaders of France, Germany and Great Britain meet in Berlin Saturday for trilateral talks in a bid to heal cracks over the Iraq war and present a more united European leadership.

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European heavyweights will thrash out troubling issues in Berlin on Saturday.

Amid a background of deadlocked talks at the U.N. Security Council over a new U.S. resolution on Iraq, Europe’s "Big Three" will come together for a summit in Berlin on Saturday to seek common ground on divisive issues like the future of Iraq and EU security policies.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac will travel to Berlin on Saturday for talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

"The meeting serves as a forum to agree on common positions in foreign policy after divergent opinions in the run-up to the Iraq war," the German government confirmed in a statement this week.

New U.S. Iraq resolution reinforces splits

While obvious splits emerged within Europe during the lead-up to the Iraq war, with France and Germany forming an anti-war coalition and souring relations with backers of the U.S.-led invasion including Britain, Spain and Poland, in recent months the differences have become entrenched.

France and Germany remain critical of a new U.S. resolution calling for more international help in the form of a multinational force under U.S. command. France, in particular, wants the U.S. to set a concrete timetable to hand over power to the Iraqis and wants international recognition of Iraqi sovereignty to be made top priority.

In addition, Britain and France, both veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have opposing views on the U.N.'s future role in Iraq, now under British and U.S. occupation.

Berlin, Paris united almost all the way

On Thursday, France reiterated its demands for the U.S. to hand over power to an Iraqi government in "months, not years."

Speaking after talks with Chancellor Schröder in Berlin, French President Jacques Chirac said Paris and Berlin had the same position on Iraq.

"We are naturally worried about the situation in Iraq. We have the same analysis of the situation. We think that an approach based only on security will not be able to restore security and stability in Iraq," Chirac told a press conference.

"... we should, as rapidly as possible, move towards a more political solution -- that is, the rapid transfer, under the control of the United Nations, of governmental responsibilities to Iraq’s current governmental body," he added.

However, differences between the two leaders were discernible on the issue of training Iraqi police and soldiers. While Chirac insisted France wouldn’t support the U.S. before a U.N. resolution had been passed, Schröder said -- ahead of the summit -- that Germany was prepared to help train Iraqi police and armed forces.

"The readiness to help with the training is independent of a U.N. resolution -- I’ve already agreed to that," Schröder said in an interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt on Thursday.

Blair could help ease strained transatlantic ties

On matters not directly related to the situation in Iraq, diplomats believe that British Prime Minister Tony Blair can convince Chirac and Schröder to tone down a plan to set up a European military planning headquarters separate from U.S.-led NATO. The headquarters, advocated by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, angered Britain and the U.S. and remains a sticking point in transatlantic relations.

"Blair is the only one who can talk to the Americans, although even then they may not listen," a senior French official told Reuters.

According to Blair's spokesman, the summit was suggested by all three leaders, who had come to a "consensus" that a meeting at this time would be "sensible."

It will be a chance for a fairly wide-ranging discussion on economic matters and international affairs," he said. "This will be a chance to discuss not just Iraq but also other issues as well. There have been informal discussions, but it makes sense to continue those discussions now."

Chance for unified European foreign policy?

Analysts believe that if the three leaders do indeed manage to narrow differences on Iraq’s future, it could force a change in Washington’s stance and go a long way in forging a common European foreign policy.

"It would make it very difficult for the United States to oppose such a position in the Security Council," Martin Koopman, an analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations told Reuters. "In any case, it would mean an extreme upgrading of Europe."