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Chirac bullish on Iraq, EU defense

Chirac Blair
The Anglo-French summit came a year after a public spat between Chirac, left, and Blair.

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Jacques Chirac
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LONDON, England -- Jacques Chirac has repeated criticism that the transfer of power in Iraq is taking too long, and said a Europe defense system would not contradict NATO.

The French president was speaking to reporters following a three-hour summit in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday.

On U.S. proposals for transfer of power to the Iraqi people, Chirac said: "It seems to me to be set to take place over too long a period. It seems to me to be incomplete."

Both leaders were also asked about plans for a European defense force and its effect on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"France does not have a problem with NATO, no problem," Chirac said.

"Our view of European defense is a view which is in no way contradictory with NATO," he said.

"Neither the Germans nor the French wish in the slightest way to take any initiative which will be in contradiction with NATO, which ... is the mainstay of European defense.

"However we believe that there are a number of operations which can be carried out -- we have talked about Macedonia, we have talked about Africa -- more generally speaking the Balkans.

"There are operations which need to be carried out by us and it has to be properly prepared, properly led and properly operated."

Blair agreed that a European defense policy must develop in a consistent way with NATO.

"We have to be sure that we get the right result at the intergovernmental conference ... to allow European defense to develop in a way that is fully consistent with the NATO alliance," Blair said.

"I think it is important to realize the whole time that there is nobody I know of in Europe that wants to see European defense go forward at the expense of NATO. NATO will remain the cornerstone of our defense."

Monday's Anglo-French meeting, which also included French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, followed a summit in Le Touquet in February, which had been postponed from November after a very public spat between Chirac and Blair.

The two countries also have been at odds over Iraq, with France opposing the war led by U.S. and British troops.

Blair said relations between Britain and France had improved since two years ago, when there were difficulties over issues such as beef imports and the Red Cross camp for asylum seekers at Sangatte, France.

He paid tribute to the cooperation of the French authorities over asylum, which he said had contributed towards the reduction by half of the number of applications in the UK over the past few months.

Chirac said Britain and France had cooperated in Iran, Afghanistan and Africa, in a reflection of the "renewed cordiality and strengthened trust between our two countries".

Blair and Chirac also declared their determination to combat international terrorism in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attacks on British targets in Istanbul.

"I thank the president for his warm sentiments of solidarity in the light of what took place in Turkey last week, and his condolences at the British casualties.

"We agreed that it is important that we do everything we can at every level we can to combat this menace in our world."

Blair announced that to mark next year's 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale -- a treaty between Britain and France -- Chirac would be visiting Britain, and the queen would visit France.

He added: "I'm also delighted to say that the president has kindly invited Her Majesty the Queen and myself to participate in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in June next year.

"That will be another opportunity to demonstrate our common history and common values."


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