- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

EVIAN, France — Europe’s fiercest opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq yesterday put the contentious debate behind them and firmly backed President Bush’s plan on rebuilding the country.

At an economic summit held in this lakeside Alps resort village, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder looked to the future and downplayed their disagreement with the United States.

“French-U.S. relations are 200 years old and will, believe me, continue for a long time, and in a spirit of cooperation that clearly does not exclude having different points of view,” Mr. Chirac said.

The French leader, who refused to participate in the coalition effort to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, announced yesterday that he would send French special forces to work with U.S. troops trying to drive out remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Mr. Schroeder, who won office on an anti-American political platform and tried to sway other European leaders to oppose the Iraq war in a second United Nations resolution, also agreed “to leave behind the conflicts over the Iraq war.”

But the chilly relations that resulted from French and German efforts to derail the U.S. call to remove Saddam remained hidden behind the tight smiles. Mr. Bush invited Russian President Vladimir Putin — another war opponent, but one who did not seek to delay or weaken the U.S. ultimatum to Saddam — and Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States. He did not extend such invitations to Mr. Chirac or Mr. Schroeder.

Still, Mr. Bush, who held a firm line throughout his whirlwind tour of Europe — which included three stops of less than 24 hours each — was gracious to his hosts.

Now that the war has been executed successfully, Mr. Bush said the time has come to let bygones be bygones and move forward in a spirit of cooperation.

“When it came time to focus on a free Iraq, a healthy Iraq, a prosperous Iraq, we’re in agreement, and we will move together to ensure that the Iraqi people have now got the capacity to run their own country. It’s going to take them time to get there. It’s a difficult situation in Iraq, but we are committed to a free Iraq, and together we can make that happen more quickly than if we were still at odds on the issue,” the president said.

Another war opponent, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, frankly acknowledged that this week’s meeting among the leaders of the eight wealthiest nations “could have been a disaster.” Like the others, he put the brightest possible face on the gathering, the first since the end of the Iraq war.

“We realized we had to look to the future instead of the past, and everybody took that stand, with positive effect,” he said. “It was very cordial from all sides.”

On other topics, the leaders said that they had addressed some concerns raised by antiglobalization protesters, devoting a record amount of time to discussions to alleviate poverty in developing countries.

The leaders exchanged views on economic reforms and said there were hopeful signs that stronger economic growth was on the way in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Mr. Chirac called the economic discussions “very positive” and said the leaders expressed a “message of confidence” that their countries could achieve higher growth rates.

They pledged to redouble efforts to counter global terrorism, focusing on such issues as blocking financing and denying safe haven to terrorists. And they issued a strong statement urging North Korea to dismantle any nuclear-weapons programs and underlined the danger posed by Iran’s advanced nuclear program.

But Mr. Chretien said the stern warning for Iran to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty was not a prelude to military action.

“No. We don’t want them to have them,” Mr. Chretien said.

And while the leaders didn’t discuss any issue that hinted of past divisions, accusations that the British doctored evidence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq dogged Prime Minister Tony Blair on the sidelines.

“I stand absolutely, 100 percent behind the evidence, based on intelligence, that we presented people,” Mr. Blair told a news conference.

In Rome, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defended the case the United States made on weapons in Iraq. “It wasn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination,” he said.

And at a news conference in Penang, Malaysia, the defense ministers from Britain and Australia said intelligence pointing to illicit weapons in Iraq justified the invasion.

Mr. Bush left in the midafternoon for the Middle East for talks with the leaders of Israel and various Arab countries to get the peace process back on track, but the leaders said his early exit did not hurt progress at the meeting. They offered their full support for Mr. Bush’s diplomatic shuttle mission that took him straight to Egypt from the shores of Lake Geneva.

“We all felt that he needs to work personally on the Middle East process,” Mr. Chretien said. “He represents the wishes of the rest of the countries at the discussions.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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