President Bush, meeting here with President Jacques Chirac of France, said Saturday that Iraq's new interim prime minister had formally invited U.S. troops to remain in Iraq, a development the French and American sides said could lead to a new U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced on Air Force One en route to Paris from Rome that Ayad Allawi had sent a letter outlining the terms under which he would agree to the presence of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. Powell said he would respond in a letter "in a positive vein" to Allawi's proposal. He said the letters would form annexes to the U.N. resolution.
Bush hailed the development as a "positive step forward."
Chirac, the main international opponent of Bush's policies in Iraq, agreed that "we have moved forward positively, and we should be able to put the finishing touches to this text very shortly." Chirac indicated, however, that he did not agree with Powell's plan to include the agreement in annexes. Chirac said the "thrust" of the agreement in the letters "has to be picked up in the language of the resolution."
The movement toward a new U.N. resolution, which would give international approval and possibly money and troops to the Bush plan to transfer partial sovereignty to Iraqis, was a bright spot in a news conference held by the French and U.S. presidents that exposed the tense disagreement between them over Iraq.
Chirac said during the session at Elysee Palace that he had told Bush he was not convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. While applauding the removal of Saddam Hussein as Iraq's president, Chirac said that "what's less positive is there is a degree of chaos prevailing" in Iraq.
"We have certainly not put the difficulties behind us. Do not believe that," Chirac said. "We are in a situation which is extremely precarious."
The two leaders expressed common cause in such areas as Afghanistan and the Balkans. But their comity broke down as Bush was confronted with hostile questioning from French journalists, one of whom compared Bush to Hussein, adding that the U.S. president had been "accused of state terrorism."
In a frosty moment that ended the conference, Chirac criticized Bush's efforts to compare the Iraq war and World War II, a sentiment that Bush expressed anew in advance of Sunday's 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy.
"I fully understand what led President Bush to make this comparison, if only for reason of circumstance," Chirac said. "History does not repeat itself, and it is very difficult to compare historical situations that differ. The situation in Iraq has to be contained, has to be mastered. We have to roll up our sleeves. . . . Perhaps we will succeed."
Despite the tension, both sides emphasized progress toward a U.N. resolution that would set aside diplomatic strain.
"We are very, very close to completing the work," Powell said on Air Force One. He said he believed the letters would address objections from countries, particularly France, that have sought a more specific outline of Iraqi sovereignty than the Bush administration proposed in a draft resolution.
"I am confident within a few days we will be there," Powell said. "We are in the endgame."
Powell said Allawi's letter "lays out a committee structure where there would be political-to-political and political-to-military dialogue about the strategy that would be followed, the broad policy on the use of forces and how we would deal with any sensitive operations that might be contemplated."
Powell, who did not provide a copy of the letter, said Allawi would have the "committee structure going all the way down throughout the country, so that throughout the country, Iraqi authorities would be in contact with the coalition military authorities present to make sure there is full coordination and understanding of the operations that are being planned."
Powell said that while the letters would be expressed in annexes for technical reasons, they "are totally consistent with the intent, purpose and language of the resolution."
Later, the French president said he hoped that a resolution would be reached "very shortly, in the next few days" and that "things are moving in the right direction."
But Chirac repeated the French requirement that Iraqi sovereignty be detailed in the resolution. "We must say loud and clear that the international community is hell-bent on achieving one objective, which is returning sovereignty to an Iraqi government, which will give hope to the people of Iraq."
Speaking after Chirac, Bush said, "I appreciate our discussions" on Iraq. He spoke of the exchange of letters with Allawi in less detail, saying only that it "lays out the parameters of the security cooperation in Iraq."
Chirac also expressed worry about escalating violence in the Middle East, echoing a concern addressed to Bush by Pope John Paul II in Rome on Friday. "We are very worried when we see that this conflict is continuing to spread," Chirac said, adding: "We cannot ignore the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese dimensions of the problem."
Bush arrived in Paris this afternoon after a meeting and news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "I sense a spirit of unity in terms of working with the new Iraqi government," Bush said. "That's why we're working closely with nations to get a United Nations Security Council resolution. . . . And I am confident we will get one soon."
Berlusconi said Italian troops would remain in Iraq at least until a new government is elected in January. Tens of thousands of Italians marched in Rome on Friday demanding that the country withdraw its troops from Iraq, as Spain recently did.