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Bush, Chirac Appear to Make Public Reconciliation Over Iraq Differences - 2003-06-02


U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have publicly signaled that they have put their feud over the Iraq war behind them and are prepared to work together on major economic and security issues. The two leaders staged a public reconciliation at the G-8 summit in the French town of Evian just before Mr. Bush embarked on a peacekeeping mission to the Middle East.

The two men sat together on a terrace at the hotel where they were meeting with the leaders of six other nations and, as a horde of photographers clicked away, indicated that the past was behind them.

Mr. Bush seemed determined to address critics who concluded that, after the transatlantic rift over the war, the two men would never be able to work together again. "I know there are a lot of people in both our countries wondering whether or not we could actually sit down and have a comfortable conversation. And the answer is, absolutely. We can have disagreements. But that doesn't mean we have to be disagreeable to each other," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush thanked President Chirac for his hospitality and for backing a United Nations resolution that lifted international sanctions against Iraq and gave the United States and Britain virtually free rein to run the country in the immediate future.

Mr. Chirac expressed full support for Mr. Bush's decision to involve himself personally in Middle East peacemaking by meeting, first, with Arab leaders in Egypt and then with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Jordan.

But the U.S. president acknowledged that the two countries had gone through a rough patch over Iraq. "Listen, we must be frank. We went through a difficult period. ... There was no question where Jacques Chirac stood. And I made it clear where I stood. That's why I can say that we've got good relations because we're able to be very honest with each other," he said.

Mr. Chirac did not comment publicly on the split that saw him become the most ferocious critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But he gave no sign of backing away from the position that France held during the conflict. On Sunday, he told reporters most of the world's countries share his vision of a multi-polar world in which the United States would not be the sole dominant power.

Indicating that his attention is now turned fully toward the Middle East, Mr. Bush said he will call on all the parties in the region to live up to their responsibilities to achieve peace. "My country and I will put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace. I fully understand this is going to be a difficult process. I fully understand we need to work with our friends such as France to achieve the process. I know we won't make progress unless people assume their responsibilities," Mr. Bush said.

Commenting on the Bush-Chirac meeting, diplomats on both sides acknowledged that France and the United States still have deep differences but are at least determined to be cordial to each other.

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