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France, Germany, Russia React to Iraq Contracts Denial - 2003-12-10

France, Germany and Russia have reacted with varying degrees of anger to Washington's decision to exclude countries that had opposed the war in Iraq from lucrative contracts to rebuild the country.

Germany offered the bluntest reaction to date to the Pentagon's decision to deny nearly $19 billion in reconstruction contracts to the three staunchest opponents of the U.S.-led war on Iraq. A government spokesman in Berlin said Wednesday it would "not be acceptable to prevent German companies from bidding for lucrative deals to help rebuild Iraq."

News agencies quote Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov as saying all countries willing to help should be allowed. He told a news conference Moscow is not planning on any write-off of Iraq's multi-billion-dollar debt to Russia.

In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman would not directly comment on Washington's decision, but said, the French government was studying the international legality of any Iraq-related decisions by the United States, which might affect French companies. Companies best suited for post-war reconstruction work, such as the construction giant Bouygues, also made no comment.

France, Germany and Russia not only led international resistance to the war on Iraq, all three countries remained the bluntest critics of the U.S.-led postwar occupation of the country. They insist that the United Nations play a leading role in Iraq and that power should be handed over to Iraqi authorities as soon as possible.

And while the European Union earmarked $1.3 billion for Iraq's reconstruction, France, Germany and Russia refused to pledge any bilateral assistance during an October donors' conference in Madrid.

The French media, so far, have offered little commentary on Washington's new directive. But the Agence France-Presse news agency quoted sources saying that barring the three countries from bidding for Iraqi contracts did not appear to violate World Trade Organization rules.

Still, the U.S. decision may have a limited effect. Already some German companies, for example, are reportedly working in Iraq as subcontractors.