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Blair, Chirac Stress Unity, Accept Differences Over Iraq


French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair highlighted their common approach to many of the world problems at a joint news conference Thursday in London, but Iraq remained a point of disagreement.

On the issue of Iraq, Tony Blair said the differences between Britain and France are well known, but both nations want to see the development of a stable and democratic Iraq.

Jacques Chirac said the two countries had come to different conclusions on Iraq and that as he saw it, history would judge who was right. Asked about the conflict in Iraq at the news conference, Mr. Chirac said he did not feel it has helped in the overall war on terrorism.

"If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world, if you look at all that, including in Asia for example and particularly in southeast Asia, if you look at all that, you cannot say and be credible that the situation has significantly improved," he said. "I am talking now about in terms of security and terrorism. I do not see a direct link between that and the situation in Iraq but I note that that is the case."

Both leaders did say they were working closely together on a host of other issues including the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Mr. Chirac stressed that progress there must begin with free and fair presidential elections for the Palestinians.

"The U.K. [United Kingdon] and France consider that there is a window of opportunity and a need," he said. "The window of opportunity is that we could have a more stable political order and we should do everything that we can to achieve that and to give it its voice. Both of us consider following the talks that the prime minister has had with the United States. I understand that there is a consensus to try and ensure that the elections in Palestine are possible, that is to say, that the Palestinian people can express their views and it is necessary for everybody to make an effort to avoid any provocation by anybody in that context."

Mr. Blair added that the best strategy for the Israeli-Palestinians conflict centers around a series of steps he discussed last week with President Bush in Washington.

"The five steps that myself and President Bush set out last Friday, I think, offer the only way forward at the present time and I think myself and President Chirac are essentially agreed on these components," he said. "The first is we have to be clear about the overall vision and that is the two-state solution. Second, we have to be clear on the necessity of the Palestinian elections being allowed to go ahead and happening. Thirdly, we have to build with the Palestinians the necessary structures - politically, economically and in security terms - for a viable state. Fourthly, we have to make sure that the disengagement plan that Prime Minister Sharon has outlined actually goes ahead. And then fifth, we have to use these achievements if they happen, then as the opportunity to get back into the road map and final status negotiations."

Both Mr. Blair and Mr. Chirac cited the recent agreement with Iran on its nuclear program as evidence European countries can work together to solve problems, although the French leader added that Iran must take more confidence-building steps.

The French president is in Britain for a two-day visit seen as the climax of the 100th anniversary of the so-called 'friendly understanding' between the two countries.