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Chirac Willing to Adopt 'Pragmatic Approach' to Post-War Iraq - 2003-04-15

President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac spoke Tuesday about rebuilding Iraq amidst growing concern about Syria harboring Iraqi leaders. It is the first time the two men have spoken in more than two months after disagreeing over how best to disarm Saddam Hussein.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the leaders spoke for about 20 minutes in a wide-ranging, "business-like" discussion.

France opposed the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Along with Russia and Germany, France last week said the United Nations should take the lead in rebuilding Iraq.

President Bush says the U.N. will have a role, but chiefly a humanitarian one as the coalition that captured Baghdad will take the lead in helping establish an interim authority.

French officials say President Chirac Tuesday told Mr. Bush that he is willing to adopt a "pragmatic approach" to post-war Iraq and welcomed both the fall of the Iraqi leadership as well as the relatively-brief period of fighting.

French officials say the leaders discussed Iraqi oil and the international sanctions still imposed on the country.

Mr. Fleischer says the presidents share concerns about allegations that Syria is sheltering fleeing members of the Iraqi government.

"The president talked about Iraq and his confidence that conditions in Iraq will be better than they were before the war as a result of our efforts there. The two also discussed the situation in Syria and they agreed that Syria should not harbor Iraqi leaders."

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush was "heartened" to hear President Chirac speak out against Syria, which denies it is helping former Iraqi officials. French officials say Mr. Chirac asked the president about his intentions toward Syria and expressed his hope that "nothing happens to increase tensions in the region."

President Chirac made the telephone call as part of an effort to repair strained relations over how best to disarm Iraq. The French leader said Saturday that he hopes to resume close contact with Washington, saying that unity can be rebuilt around what he called "the values that all great democracies share."

Mr. Fleischer pointed out President Bush still considers France an important ally. "The president knows that despite what was a very overt difference with France over how to deal with military issues in Iraq, that we are still allies with shared common values," he said. "That is what links the people of the United States to the people of France, that more than anything else."

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush also told the French leader that he soon hopes to release a much-anticipated Middle East peace plan that will set out a timetable for Israeli-Palestinian power-sharing toward the ultimate creation of a separate Palestinian state.