Putin, Chirac, Schroeder Discuss Post-Saddam Iraq

The three leaders met during a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking alongside French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during a joint news conference, urged Washington to take steps to give the U.N. a dominant role in governing post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

“I want to stress again that the situation we are confronting in Iraq must be resolved as quickly as possible in accordance with the U.N. charter,” Putin said.

“The faster we go along the path as set down by international law, the better it will be. The longer we delay a resolution within the U.N. framework, the more it will look like a colonial situation,” he added.

“The task of restoring the political, economic and social system of Iraq is enormous,” Chirac said. “Only the United Nations has the legitimacy to do that.”

Schroeder added that the details of the peace process could be discussed with the U.S.-led coalition “but we must reach agreement on the aegis,” which should be the U.N.

Putin also said that Russia was ready to consider the Bush administration’s call for it to forgive Baghdad some $8 to 12 billion in debt, saying that the proposal is “understandable and legitimate.”

But Putin criticized the U.S. for not yet uncovering any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq despite Washington’s strong allegations that Baghdad had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

“The goal of this war — to disarm Iraq — has not been achieved. … We must never mix notions. No one liked the Iraqi regime apart from Saddam Hussein, but this is not the point. The point is that the goal (of the war) was only to disarm Iraq,” he said.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Putin had commented that the world was better off without Saddam Hussein but criticized the military campaign that forced the end his regime.

“We always said that the regime of Saddam Hussein does not correspondent to democracy and human rights… but you can not solve such problems with military means,” Putin told reporters in between meetings.

The three countries’ focus on the U.N. is facing strong resistance from Washington, where officials have said that they will not give up the authority to oversee Iraq’s reconstruction after coalition forces risked their lives to oust Saddam’s regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a group of reporters from the Los Angeles Times earlier in the week that the coalition will have the “leading role” in a post war Iraq after “having invested this political capital and life and treasure into this enterprise.”

“[T]here is a vital role for the U.N. to play, but the suggestion that some of my colleagues would give that now that the coalition has done all of this and liberated Iraq, thank you very much, step aside and the Security Council is now going to become responsible for everything is incorrect. And they know it and they were told it,” Powell said.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has also said that the U.N. should play an integral role in a post-war Iraq, saying that only the U.N. can bring legitimacy to a new government. Annan was invited to participate in the St. Petersburg meetings but decided not to attend.

“[A]bove all the U.N. involvement does bring legitimacy which is necessary, necessary for the country, for the region and for the peoples around the world,” Annan told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Monday.

Late Friday, the U.S. State Department invited the U.N.’s newly appointed special envoy on Iraq, Rafeeuddin Ahmed, to Washington on Monday for talks on the post-conflict transition, according to a U.N. spokesman.