Russian President Vladimir Putin Saturday is hosting the German and French leaders for a second day of summit-level talks in Saint Petersburg Saturday. The talks are expected to focus on finding a way to secure a central role for the United Nations in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
The first day of summit-level talks on Iraq found the Russian, French and German leaders again aligned against the United States, this time over who will play the lead role in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
Before the war, the three nations were the main European countries to oppose the use of force to resolve the political stand-off over Iraq's weapons program. Now, with U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq scoring dramatic military gains, the leaders of Russia, Germany and France stand united in an effort to try and prevent the United States and its coalition partners from dominating the post-war reconstruction process.
Late Friday, following tripartite talks, President Putin said Iraq faces three tasks reconstruction, the resolution of humanitarian problems and a return to a peaceful life. He said he and his French and German counterparts all agreed that the United Nations was the appropriate mechanism to see those tasks to fruition.
At the start of talks Friday in St. Petersburg, President Putin urged his German and French partners to do everything in their power to preserve the stability of international law, which he said is based on the supremacy of the United Nations.
The Russian president also gave his first public reaction to the fall of the Iraqi leader's regime and the recent dramatic coalition military gains in Iraq.
He said the toppling of what he called a "tyrannical regime" was positive. But President Putin said the human toll, looming humanitarian catastrophe and civil destruction could only be viewed as "negatives."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder delivered roughly the same message, adding that the U.N. charter must be observed in all situations. And French President Jacques Chirac said only the United Nations could give Iraq's post-war redevelopment "legitimacy."
U.S. officials have said the U.N. can play a part, but that the coalition nations that did the fighting will have the lead role in reconstruction. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that message Friday in a toughly-worded article in a major U.S. newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. Secretary Powell said the idea of a central role for the United Nations has already been ruled out and that the three leaders not only know it, but have been told as much.
A senior U.S. Defense Department official earlier suggested the three nations could best contribute by forgiving debts to any new Iraqi government. That suggestion was met with immediate scorn in Russia.
The speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, said Iraq is not America's 51st state. Gennady Seleznyov also suggested the United States should pay Moscow for the Russian contracts interrupted by the war.