June 10, 2004
SEA ISLAND, Ga. - President Bush appealed to his big-power allies Thursday to do more to guide Iraq's transformation into a stable democracy, saying the "Iraqi people need help" to defend themselves, rebuild their country and hold elections.
Bush's comments, made after a private meeting with a skeptical French President Jacques Chirac, came as the annual Group of Eight summit was winding down - without Bush winning any additional commitments of help on Iraq.
Yet two of his toughest war opponents hinted they are willing to talk about an expanded NATO role if the Iraqis request it.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reiterated that his country will not send troops to Iraq, but told reporters that Germany would not block other countries if they decided NATO has a larger role.
Chirac has strong reservations about the idea, but is open to discussions before a NATO summit at month's end, French officials said.
The lingering differences over Iraq clearly extended into Chirac's meeting with Bush, who acknowledged past differences with the French president but told reporters, "Friends are able to discuss the future."
Bush said he and Chirac discussed "whether or not there is a continued role for NATO" in Iraq.
"We understand the Iraqi people need help to defend themselves, to rebuild their country and, most importantly, to hold elections," Bush said.
When his turn came to speak, Chirac did not mention the dispute over Iraq but spoke instead of how much he had enjoyed the G-8 summit, particularly the food. "Over the last few days, this cuisine here in America was certainly on a par with French cuisine," he said.
"He particularly liked the cheeseburger he had yesterday," Bush quipped.
Chirac responded: "Excellent."
A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said different points of view remain on whether NATO's participation should grow. "For us, it would be awkward to raise the flag of NATO in Iraq," the official said.
Bush aides said they expected to find some common ground on the issue before a NATO summit this month in Turkey.
The administration also is looking for upcoming talks to produce a breakthrough on forgiving a substantial portion of Iraq's estimated $120 billion in foreign debt.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is prepared to "eliminate the vast majority" of the Iraq debt that Japan holds if other members of the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations do the same, said Japanese delegation spokesman Jiro Okuyama.
After the summit wraps up with African leaders, Bush and others were leaving this exclusive beach resort for Washington to attend the state funeral of former President Reagan.
Tens of thousands of people filed by Reagan's casket lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda. Bush is to see the casket Thursday evening when he returns to Washington.
On Africa, powerful leaders of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia endorsed a proposal to train and where necessary equip 75,000 new peacekeepers in the next five years.
The Bush administration also won backing from major allies for a proposal to accelerate development of an HIV vaccine, and the president on Thursday proposed spending $15 million to launch it.
After weeks of bad news out of Iraq, Bush was able to claim a victory as the summit began, when the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved a resolution granting legitimacy to the new Iraqi interim government.
Bush invited Iraq's president, Ghazi al-Yawer, to the summit and talked with him about Iraqi reconstruction and the country's relations with Syria and Iran, said a senior administration official present at the session.
Iraqis with close ties to Syria should try to persuade Syria "to be more responsible" in guarding its border to keep militants from entering Iraq, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the president.
During a picture-taking session, al-Yawer told Bush that his country was "moving in steady steps" toward democracy.
The G-8 leaders on Wednesday adopted a compromise version of Bush's plan to push democracy across the greater Middle East, but tied such an effort to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, at European insistence.
The plan aims to spur democracy by providing support to grass-roots groups, training 100,000 new teachers over the next decade and providing loans to fledgling entrepreneurs.
While all countries endorsed the aims, European countries grumbled that they have been pursuing many of these goals for years in the Middle East.
And many Arab countries remained suspicious of the whole enterprise, seeing it as unwanted meddling by the Bush administration.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri warned that Western governments should not work through non-government groups in Arab countries because such an effort "could turn counterproductive."
But the government of Jordan, whose king attended the G-8 summit, welcomed the help, saying that Arabs recognized the need to address deficiencies in education, civil rights and the role of women "that continue to hinder the attainment of the potential of the Arab people."