- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

PARIS — President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, Europe’s most outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, yesterday expressed confidence that the United Nations soon will clear new terms for a transfer of power, but the simmering bitterness between the leaders over prewar disagreements bubbled over in a testy press conference.

Mr. Chirac, who before the war had urged other European leaders to oppose U.S. intervention in Iraq, said there still is no proof Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ever possessed weapons of mass destruction. He also snubbed Mr. Bush’s recent linkage between World War II and the Iraq war, asserting that “history does not repeat itself.”

“It is very difficult to compare historical situations that differ,” said the French leader, who will host a celebration today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S. and allied forces stormed the beaches and began a march to free European nations under the rule of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

Mr. Bush, who repeated his view that the United States and France are age-old friends that simply disagree on the Iraq issue, returned fire, especially when asked by a French journalist about an axiom first uttered by Thomas Jefferson, “Everyone has two countries — their own and France.”

“To paraphrase President Kennedy, there’s America, and then there’s Texas,” he quipped during the press conference at the Elysee Palace.

Though Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac were combative during a question-and-answer session, both leaders hewed to a more conciliatory stance during opening statements, with each praising the other for efforts to combat terrorism worldwide and expressing gratitude for the millions of allied soldiers that freed Europe from the grip of Hitler.

Mr. Chirac said that at the anniversary ceremony today at the beaches of Normandy, he will express to the aging veterans gathered there “just how deeply grateful we are to them today, how grateful we are in the knowledge of the sacrifices they made, of the blood that they spilled, their own blood, for the liberation of our country, and of Europe as a whole.

“And I will say to them that France says thank you, and that France does not forget.”

Mr. Bush said the history of D-Day continues to teach the world a lesson: “That sacrifices must always be borne in the defense of freedom, that free nations working together can overcome danger, and that the deepest source of strength of any army is the values for which it fights.”

The president has cited each of these points as justification for his decision to disarm Saddam — a move France supported in the United Nations.

On the future of Iraq, Mr. Chirac said the U.N. Security Council could agree “within a few days” on a new resolution setting out the terms of a transfer of power to the nation’s fledgling government.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Rome to Paris, said he expects a breakthrough after Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, appointed Tuesday by the United Nations to head the country, sent a letter yesterday to the Security Council making various suggestions on military operations in Iraq that can be subject to checks and balances.

“With the receipt of the Allawi letter, this puts us much closer to the finishing line,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Bush, speaking in Paris and earlier in Rome, also expressed confidence that the process of handing over “full sovereignty” to a newly formed Iraqi government will be completed soon.

In Italy, during a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mr. Bush said he was confident a deal on a resolution would be reached soon, and he sensed a “spirit of unity” in the international community.

However, in Paris, where more than 10,000 people protested the Iraq war and chanted “Bush assassin,” the president and his most vocal critic clashed at times over the justification for going to war in the first place.

When a reporter asserted that France once had believed Saddam possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Chirac bristled, calling the assertion “incorrect.”

“I have always said that I had no information that would lead me to believe that there were, or were not, for that matter, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That’s a fact,” he said in French. “All the information available to us at that time and on that subject did not allow us to take a stand or to reach any conclusion, which is why I said to President Bush that I, personally, was incapable of saying whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction.”

But later, the two leaders came down the palace steps together, accompanied by their wives, and appeared quite cordial. The two men exchanged kisses on both cheeks with the other’s wife, and then Mr. Chirac walked down a few more steps to the presidential limousine. Mr. Bush turned to the French president and said, “Jacques, thank you.”

Once inside the limousine, Mr. Bush saluted his host.

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