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Blair, Chirac, Schroeder Discuss Post-War Iraq - 2003-09-20

French, German and British leaders are meeting in Berlin to discuss the situation in post-war Iraq and ways to expand international involvement. It is the first meeting of the three European leaders since the war in Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac arrived separately at the Germany Chancellery, where they were greeted by German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder.

None of the leaders spoke to the press before starting their late-morning talks. But President Chirac gave Mr. Schroeder a bear hug and said in German, "Here I am again," to laughter.

Mr. Chirac was in Berlin only two days ago for bilateral talks on the European economy and on Iraq.

The formal agenda of Saturday's summit is also a European one. The 15-member European Union is hoping to welcome 10 new members next year, and must agree on a new constitution. The leaders are expected to discuss a 10-point investment plan in areas like telecommunications and renewable energy, which Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder outlined on Thursday.

But the three leaders are also expected to try to resolve disagreements over managing post-war Iraq. Mr. Blair supports a U.S.-international peacekeeping plan for the country. But the French and German leaders have criticized the initiative, and called a greater role for the United Nations and for a speedy return to self-rule in Iraq.

Earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the French proposal "unrealistic." On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Bush administration is trying to isolate France at the United Nations for what it considers an attempt to thwart Washington's plans for Iraq.

Still, analysts and the European press speculate that Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Blair are willing to make compromises. Mr. Schroeder, who meets President Bush in the United States next week, has already offered to train Iraqi police and military, as has Mr. Chirac.

Mr. Blair faces growing domestic concern over continuing British casualties in Iraq and questions over whether Saddam Hussein's regime did pose a serious threat to the West.