PARIS – The British and French foreign ministers, meeting as Baghdad came under allied control, agreed Wednesday that coalition troops are needed to secure Iraq, but France also repeated demands for a "central" United Nations role in rebuilding the country.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the United States and Britain want Iraq to have a "representative, democratic" government quickly, but cautioned: "That can't happen overnight."
"In those circumstances, since United States (and) United Kingdom forces are the reality on the ground, in terms of providing security and stability Minister Dominique de Villepin concurred.
"It's a difficult, delicate period and clearly ... forces on the ground have the primary responsibility in this phase," he said.
But for Iraq's reconstruction, "it is important that the legitimacy of the international community be upheld, and for this the United Nations needs a central place," the French minister said.
The European leaders met as U.S. military officials said President Saddam Hussein's government no longer controlled Baghdad and most parts of Iraq. But the Americans warned more fighting was ahead.
France led European opposition to the war, infuriating British officials, and is now pushing for the United Nations to have a major role in building the peace.
But Britain and the United States, while speaking of a "vital" role for the world body, have stopped short of saying the United Nations will have a broad mandate.
Asked for the difference between a "central" and a "vital" U.N. role, Straw said: "I think it's more or less the same."
"We are, I think, in agreement that the United Nations has its full place in this process," said de Villepin.
Neither minister, who spoke to reporters after a breakfast meeting in Paris, gave details of how the United Nations might be involved.
But in a statement published Wednesday in Le Figaro newspaper, Straw said Britain wants the United Nations to supervise international aid to Iraq.
He also expressed hope it will "play a major role" in organizing a postwar conference of Iraqi representatives, and said Britain would seek U.N. Security Council endorsement for "an appropriate post-conflict administration" in Iraq.
The meeting between Straw and de Villepin followed a period of intense strain and even open hostility in French-British relations caused by disputes over the Iraq conflict, European Union policies and other issues.
But the two ministers sought to give the impression that their nations' ties remain solid.
"Life would be very boring if friends always agreed," said Straw. "This is a grown-up relationship."
"What unites us is stronger than what divides us," said de Villepin.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has been staunchly anti-war, said he was encouraged by coalition successes in Iraq, but he emphasized the need for a central U.N. role in rebuilding the country.
"The important thing now is to make a political profit out of a probable and welcome victory," Schroeder said. "That will only be the case if the Iraqi people can decide themselves on political and economic conditions. That must, of course, be the aim of everyone."