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France to Triple Contribution to AIDS Fund - 2003-06-01

French President Jacques Chirac, host of this year's Group of Eight summit, says his country will triple its contribution to a global fund to fight AIDS to nearly $180 million a year, and he is calling a U.S. initiative to grant $15 billion over five years to combat the disease "historic." Mr. Chirac and U.S. President George W. Bush, who clashed over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, are being polite to each other, although tensions left over from the war still linger.

The two presidents smiled and shook hands, as they met for the first time since the Iraq war ended. And, when asked at a news conference if their relationship had been hurt by their differences, Mr. Chirac admonished reporters not to believe everything they have heard. He said his brief exchange with Mr. Bush was very positive.

But diplomats in Evian say the rift over Iraq can be glossed over at the summit, but will not be healed anytime soon. They say neither government will acknowledge the validity of the other's position on the war.

Still, Mr. Chirac praised Mr. Bush's AIDS initiative, and said the U.S. president was "totally right" in calling on other G-8 nations to back it up with their own contributions. He said that, in addition to France, he hoped European Union members could come together at a summit this month in Greece and suitably respond to the U.S. exhortation.

Mr. Chirac decided that the first day of the summit would be dedicated to development issues, like poverty and disease, and he invited several Third World leaders to Evian to brief the G-8 on their perception of these questions.

One of those leaders, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, proposed taxing the arms trade to set up a fund aimed at feeding the world's hungry.

Mr. Chirac, speaking through an interpreter, says he favors studying that proposal. "I think perhaps a tax on the sale of weapons would be quite justified," he said. "I'm very much in favor of studying this proposal, and, for the time being, that's all he's asked, that we study a tax of this type."

Mr. Chirac says he favors continuing the enlarged G-8 dialogue with Third World leaders in the years ahead. He says he hopes President Bush will ask developing country leaders to attend the G-8 summit next year in the United States.