INTERNATIONAL

France, U.K. disagree on U.N.

Iraqis celebrate in front of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on Wednesday. — AFP  

PARIS APRIL 9. The tone was cordial but the differences could not be concealed. Britain and France once again agreed to disagree over Iraq with France insisting that the United Nations alone should undertake the political, economic, humanitarian and administrative reconstruction of post-war Iraq.

The visiting British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in Paris for a meeting with his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, today said that Britain and the U.S. favoured "the creation of a representative, democratic Iraqi government carrying the consent of its people and responsible for its own security". He, however, underlined that such a Government could not be created overnight. The British Foreign Secretary thus gave journalists to understand that some kind of interim administration led by the U.S. would be inevitable until Iraq was stable enough to elect a government of its own.

The tone of the meeting was friendly, a departure from the bitterness and anger that have marked Franco-British relations these past few weeks. "I am pleased with this meeting which comes after several difficult weeks between our two countries, even if dialogue between us never really stopped," the French Foreign Minister said.

Mr. de Villepin congratulated Britain and the U.S. on their statement in Ireland on Tuesday promising a `vital role' for the U.N. in the reconstruction of Iraq.

"France is pleased at the stance taken by the U.S. President, George W. Bush and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I think we all agree on giving the U.N. an important role. France favours giving it a central role," Mr. de Villepin said.

Humanitarian crisis

Mr. de Villepin expressed grave concern over the humanitarian situation in Iraq saying the world had to act quickly to get humanitarian aid into Iraq.

French leaders are swinging into action in an attempt to prevent the U.S. and Britain picking up all the aces from the post-war debris in Iraq. Mr. de Villepin will travel to West Asia visiting Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia.