As U.S.-led forces consolidated their hold on Iraq, the leaders of Russia, France and Germany gathered Friday for a summit that was expected to push for the United Nations to play the leading role after the end of hostilities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were the war’s most vocal opponents. Now, their insistence on a political role for the United Nations could further strain their relations with Washington.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko sought to assuage U.S. fears of a further rift, saying the summit would look for “nonconfrontational” ways of cooperation with Washington and London on rebuilding Iraq.
Putin and Schroeder held separate talks that Prikhodko said were focusing on economic and cultural ties. He said Putin’s meeting later with Chirac would also focus on bilateral issues such as aerospace cooperation and on preparations for the June summit of the Group of Eight most industrialized nations.
International issues would be left for the leaders’ three-way meeting later in the evening, Prikhodoko said.
Prikhodko said the summit should not be seen as an answer to the Belfast summit earlier this week between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said the United Nations should play a vital role in rebuilding Iraq but that its role had not been defined.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia was hoping the United Nations would, nonetheless, play “the central role.”
“The United Nations is endowed with unique powers that other international organizations do not have,” Ivanov told reporters in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, where he was attending a meeting of foreign ministers from former Soviet republics. “And these powers are necessary to use in order to quickly find the route to normalizing the situation in Iraq. This is in the interests of the Iraqi people and the interests of stability in the region as a whole.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz flatly told a Senate panel Thursday that the United Nations “can’t be in charge.” Asked about the St. Petersburg summit, Wolfowitz suggested that Russia, France and Germany could contribute to postwar reconstruction by writing off Iraq’s debts.
Russia is owed at least $7 billion in Soviet-era debt by Baghdad and is seeking to protect lucrative contracts signed by Russian companies to develop Iraq’s oil industry.
Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said it was up to Iraq, not the United States, to negotiate its obligations.
“Iraq is not the 51st state of America,” Seleznyov said. “All debt issues will be resolved only with the lawful government of Iraq.”
Schroeder’s visit had been planned long ago, but Friday’s meeting was hastily transformed into a three-way affair following the Belfast summit.