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Iraq War Opponents Stress Importance of the United Nations

Germany's chancellor met with his French and Russian counterparts to discuss postwar Iraq. The three agreed the United Nations must play a central role in rebuilding Iraq, and force should only be used as a last resort.

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Summit in St. Petersburg: not intended to counterbalance the U.S. and Britain

The leaders of Germany, France and Russia laid out the results of their two-day summit in St. Petersburg to discuss the issue of postwar Iraq on Saturday and tried to shake off the impression that their meeting was a reaction to the U.S.-British summit in Belfast earlier in the week.

The three statesmen did not back off from their insistence that the United Nations should be the guiding force in reconstructing Iraq, but their tones were muted.

Their views "practically coincided" in the conviction to uphold the role of the U.N. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said. He called for modernization of the United Nations and said that proper consultation could prevent future conflicts.

"We understand the world is changing rapidly. It is clear the system of international law must change and be refined to meet the needs of that rapidly changing world," Putin said. "It is important that [the United Nations has] the instruments available to resolve the problems of world security," he said.

As U.S. and British forces struggled to quell looting in Iraqi cities, French President Chirac said at a conference on international law attended by the three leaders on Friday, "No long term international order can be based on the logic of force." He emphasized that force should only be employed as a last resort and only with the sanction of the United Nations.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder too, highlighted the importance of the U.N. He said it remained "the sole world body based on universal values and legal principles."

"We should use the experience the U.N. has acquired in other areas in rebuilding a democratic Iraq," Schröder said, after receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Petersburg's law faculty on Friday.

The three leaders all welcomed Saddam Hussein's deposal. They were, however, skeptical that the United States and Britain intended to make room for the United Nations to take on the leading role in rebuilding Iraq, despite statements this week from U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that that would be the case.

Not full consensus

Although agreed on the role of the United Nations, differences were apparent in their views on Iraq's future.

While Schröder has said it is too early to begin concrete negotiations on the postwar order in Iraq, Russia and France appear to be anxious to stake out roles in the oil industry there. The former Iraqi regime owes €7.5 million ($8 million) to Russia and France each and around €4 million ($4.3) to Germany.

U.S. Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz had called on the three countries to waive a large part of Iraq's debts to support reconstruction.

That issue could be discussed at a summit of G-8 states in France in late May, Putin said.

Putin and Chirac were both critical of the U.S. and Britain's actions. Putin pointed out that the fact weapons of mass destruction had not yet been found in Iraq called into question the logic of the U.S.-led war there.

Schröder refrained from criticizing the coalition. Opposition denounces summit

Leading German oppositional politicians were critical of the summit.

Friedbert Plüger, foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democrat - Christian Socialist parliamentary group said in a an interview on Inforadio Berlin-Brandenburg it was "somewhat questionable whether it was smart that the three, who were decidedly against the route the Americans and British took, met again right after the war and vociferously made demands."

Instead of continuing the "ineffective, inauspicious axis of three" the German government should have begun talks with the United States and Britain, he added.

His colleague, Christian Democrat foreign policy spokesman Wolfgang Schäuble, accused the trio of misusing the summit to strengthen the "Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis." He maintained that the cost would be continued poor relations with the United States, which was contrary to Germany's interests, he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Free Democrat parliamentary group leader Wolfgang Gerhardt said in the same paper the United States was again being confronted by a "closed anti-Atlantic front," while Schröder had become an "axis smith" and had learned nothing "from our history."

Schröder will meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday in Hannover.

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