The three leading European opponents of the war in Iraq increased pressure today on the Bush administration to allow the United Nations to take a "central role" in the long-term political and economic reconstruction of the country.
But the officials conceded that the United States and Britain, rather than the United Nations, would have primary responsibility for establishing security in the country following the expected collapse of the Iraqi government.
"The United Nations must play a central role in the settlement of the Iraqi crisis. The United Nations must exercise this role from now on," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. He briefed the press, flanked by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, following a luncheon meeting.
The three foreign ministers came together a day after they and other European officials met in Brussels with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who said the United States and its military partners in the conflict must play "the leading role" in deciding Iraq's postwar future. Powell said, however, that the United Nations would be a partner in a way that is still to be decided.
The meeting in Paris took place at the end of a week in which antiwar leaders in Europe have taken a more conciliatory posture toward the United States. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said explicitly for the first time today that he favored a U.S.-British military triumph. French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin have done the same in recent days.
A major part of the U.S.-European disagreement focuses on whether the United Nations or a U.S.-British military administration will be the body that ultimately transfers power to a new Iraqi government, according to European diplomats.
Most, if not all, of the 15 nations in the European Union, as well as Russia, want the United Nations to provide overall authority for postwar Iraq. The EU fears that the United States will want the United Nations to handle only specific tasks on what a diplomat based in Brussels called "a pick-and-choose basis."
"We know the U.S. is going to hand out something to the U.N., but we don't know exactly what, where or to whom. Our efforts are deployed to ensure it hands out as much as possible," the European diplomat said.
De Villepin said the countries fighting in Iraq would clearly have the dominant role in creating a secure environment after the war.
"I believe it is entirely natural that the forces present on the ground have a particular responsibility in this phase of establishing security," de Villepin said. Fischer and Ivanov said they agreed.
De Villepin said "our British friends" agree with France on the importance of a central role for the United Nations. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pressed President Bush throughout the Iraq crisis to give the United Nations a larger role.
De Villepin dismissed an amendment approved by the House of Representatives that would exclude companies from France, Germany, Russia and Syria from any federal contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.
"The idea that Iraq can be a kind of El Dorado, a cake that states can divide up, seems to me to be contrary to good sense," de Villepin said. The House bill does "not reflect the reality of the world as it is."
In Berlin, Schroeder said in a television interview that "one cannot wish for anything else" except a U.S.-British victory. He added, though, that "the many pictures, especially of the victims, only strengthen me in my opinion that it was right to try to prevent this war."
Chirac on Thursday sent his apologies to Britain's Queen Elizabeth for the defacing of the graves of British soldiers who died in World War I and were buried in northern France. He said France's thoughts were with the British soldiers stationed in Iraq.
But French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who usually sticks to domestic policy, struck a very different tone in a television interview Thursday evening.
"The Americans made a triple mistake," in launching the war, Raffarin said, on moral, political and strategic grounds.