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Europe

Opinion: A Tough Aligning of Positions in Berlin

The leaders of Germany, France and Britain failed to resolve differences on Iraq in Berlin over the weekend, but the trilateral summit still proved useful as Europe’s Big Three powers at least got back on speaking terms.

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Not speaking the same language -- Blair (left) with Chirac and Schröder in Berlin.

There was a lot of beating around the bush after Saturday’s summit between French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which was organized to find common ground on Iraq.

All three leaders hemmed and hawed when it came to the question of Iraq. "Have you inched closer on this question?" a French journalist asked the three. All he got in reply were hollow sound bites, though they spoke volumes.

The UN as a potential healer

The positions of the three powers are still miles apart, Europe still remains deeply divided on the Iraq issue. But, at least the leaders are speaking to each other because it would be insensible to continue further in stony silence. Hence the search for common ground -- and that wasn’t totally futile either.

Take, for example, the United Nations. Once almost cursed as irrelevant by U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the U.N. is once again proving to be a lifeline as Iraq threatens to descend into chaos. The importance of the organization was thus a central topic during the talks. The democratization of Iraq too was emphatically demanded because all three leaders are unequivocally in favor of it. But how exactly that should take place still remained foggy.

It was finally the French president who found the clearest words. He demanded the prompt handover of political power back to the Iraqis and named a few months for this to be enacted. The German chancellor is of the same opinion, though he isn’t insistent on a timeframe.

Blair for his part is particularly concerned about the stability and the reconstruction of the country and in this regard at least the war opponents have once again become valuable partners to engage with in a dialogue. After all, Germany and France can help with reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and they aren’t saying a fundamental "no" to it either.

It’s through this channel that the Europeans, deeply driven since the Iraq war, are edging closer and healing rifts. The trilateral summit in Berlin and Blair’s moderate stance were just the first signs.

Relations thawing between Bush and Schröder

Even the resumption of the long-abandoned dialogue between Schröder and Bush arises from this same line of thinking. The German chancellor and the American president will be meeting this week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and they don’t want to look back on old conflicts.

"What happened earlier, is already contemporary history," a conciliatory Schröder said. And it was fitting that Schröder once again spoke to Blair before his trip to the U.S. -- after all none of the Europeans knows the American position better.

So it was no harmonious banter in Berlin, rather a tough aligning of positions. Getting back into a situation of dialogue resumption, yet at the same time not belatedly legitimizing the war -- that’s what the German government is working on earnestly at the moment.

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