France and Germany, America's harshest critics of the Iraq war, halfheartedly endorsed a U.S. plan Saturday to divide Iraq into three zones and deploy a stabilization force — that excludes them.
After an EU foreign ministers meeting dominated by debate on the dismal state of trans-Atlantic affairs, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (search) said a stabilization force by a "coalition of the willing" did not diminish Berlin's wish for the United Nations to play a key role in rebuilding Iraq.
"This is not a new situation and is not in contradiction with our discussion about giving the United Nations a role in postwar Iraq," Fischer said after the meeting, held aboard a luxury yacht off a tiny Greek Aegean island.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search) told reporters that bringing in stabilization troops from countries other than the United States and Britain simply "widens the number of countries on the ground."
The United States said it planned to set up an international force in three regions of Iraq, with Poland and Britain controlling two zones and U.S. forces the third. Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Ukraine and Bulgaria would also provide troops.
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewiczs said, "This is a fresh responsibility for my country, but we are ready to share it."
Poland, which joins the EU next year, "would prefer" a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the stabilization force, but the initiative should be able go ahead without one, Cimoszewiczs said.
The American plan not only put into sharper focus the prospect that the U.N. role in Iraq will be limited to providing humanitarian aid, but also underlined Europe's weakness to influence Iraq's postwar development. The EU wanted to bring the United Nations into that process.
Trans-Atlantic relations dominated the session, where EU nations engaged in sometimes frank exchanges about their inability to influence U.S. thinking about global issues.
"The meeting revealed a divergence in relations between Europe and the Americans that is not just about Iraq," a diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official spoke of a "segregation" between Europe and the United States and "the need for Europeans to speak with a single voice on the world stage."
To repair relations with Washington, the EU ministers said they will draft a broad security strategy to deal with such issues as terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The aim is to give Europe "a sense of direction" and narrow differences with Washington about key global security issues, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, the meeting's host, said afterward.
At the request of France, Germany and Belgium, the ministers had a first discussion of a greater EU defense role, a possibility that concerns U.S. officials who fear it could erode the NATO alliance.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) surprised other EU members by saying that beefing up Europe's military posture was not a problem, as long as it occurred in tandem with NATO — not in competition, officials said.
In separate meetings, Straw briefed Fischer and de Villepin on the Iraq stabilization force.
"We see a vital role for the United Nations in humanitarian relief," Straw told reporters after the meeting.
He said there was no attempt to sideline France and Germany, though German sources suggested privately Washington was out to embarrass the two countries for the dissenting role in the Iraq crisis.
Straw called past disagreements over the Iraq war "a matter of history" and said it was time to look forward rather than back.