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French, German, British Leaders to Meet in Berlin - 2003-09-19

The leaders of Germany, Britain and France gather in Berlin Saturday for their first meeting since the war in Iraq. It's unclear whether the Berlin summit will help heal European differences over the war, and Iraq's postwar reconstruction or reach agreement in solving Europe's own economic problems.

The three European leaders arrive at the Berlin summit with sharply different views on ways to manage postwar Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who led international opposition to the war, want power transferred to an Iraqi administration as quickly as possible, and the United Nations to assume a dominant role in the interim. They reiterated that stance during a meeting on Thursday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's staunchest ally during the war and current peacekeeping efforts, backs a slower transfer of power to an Iraqi government and apparently a more limited role for the U.N.

A Geneva meeting last weekend among the five permanent U.N. Security Council members failed to reach an agreement on the matter. But Christian Lequesne, a European Union expert at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, believes the European leaders might strike some sort of a consensus in Berlin.

"Everybody is more flexible in the postwar situation," he said. "The question is not intervention or no intervention in Iraq. It's how to manage the post-Saddam situation. It's in everybody's interest to be more flexible. For these reasons, I'm rather optimistic about the possibility to have a compromise between the three so-called big member states."

In particular, Mr. Lequesne predicts Mr. Blair might be willing to make a deal with the French and German leaders about greater U.N. involvement in Iraq, although possibly not direct administration of the country.

But another French analyst, Philippe Moreau Defarges, believes the three countries remain far apart when it comes to Iraq.

"It's difficult to be optimistic. Because on the one side, Blair will be in a difficult position, because the U.S. and British troops are in a difficult situation in Iraq," he said. "And I think probably Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Chirac are not ready to give a lot of ground, are not ready to make a lot of compromises. Because, in a way, they don't want to get involved in Iraq - to send troops or to send money."

Mr. Moreau Defarges, an expert at the French Institute for International Relations, says the three leaders also have very different views about the European economy - another likely subject to be addressed in Berlin. Unlike France and Germany, Britain is not a member of the euro zone. For that reason, he says, Mr. Blair has little authority in pushing Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder to meet European Union budget deficit caps that both countries have exceeded.

Mr. Blair also does not support French and German proposals to build a European defense center separate from NATO. For these and other reasons, he says, the Berlin summit is likely to do little more than paper over differences that still divide the EU's three most powerful members.