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G-8 leaders split on Iran, North Korea

But heads of state do pledge to help build a stable Iraq

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EVIAN, France — On Iraq, at least, they turned the page. But feuding world leaders who came together at a let's-make-up summit in France remained split over the next crises darkening the horizon — how to prevent North Korea and Iran from building nuclear weapons.

The gathering of the powerful Group of Eight nations closed Tuesday with pledges to build a "stable and democratic Iraq" and a shared message of confidence that their sputtering economies — the largest throughout the world — can rebound.

But beyond the photo-ops and statements that together totaled 26,966 words, the meeting's stand-out success was in bringing President Bush face-to-face with leaders of "old Europe" who opposed the war that ousted Saddam Hussein. All said they had now moved on, even if French President Jacques Chirac said his opposition to the conflict itself had "not changed one iota."

But though they let bygones be, the Europeans and Russia staked out firm positions on Iran, which Washington believes is pursuing nuclear weapons. And while Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi said efforts to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions must be peaceful, Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to say whether G-8 members ruled out using force against the hardline communist state.

"What is the solution for a situation like North Korea? We don't have the solution," Chretien said. "The best course is always diplomacy, the United Nations and international organizations. But you're dealing with a government there that is not well known by anybody and not very well understood."

Chirac, meanwhile, took umbrage at suggestions that a declaration by the G-8, which spoke of possible "other measures" against states developing destructive weapons, was really code-language for using force. That was how one senior U.S. official said the United States interpreted the declaration.

"This interpretation, my dear sir, seems to me to be extremely daring," the French president said at a closing news conference Tuesday. "There was never any question of using force against anybody, in any area."

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. But North Korea has said it already has nuclear weapons and has plans to build more. Bush believes both are members of what he regards as an "axis of evil," which also included Iraq before Saddam's downfall.

G-8 leaders want Iran to sign an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol that would allow inspections of all suspected nuclear sites at any time.

A Russian official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said there was general agreement among leaders that Iran "must remove any doubts" about its compliance with an international agreement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons by June 16. That's when the board of governors of the agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, next meets.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the need for international cooperation is the lesson learned from the feuds over what to do in Iraq.

"Otherwise, there's the risk in future of other unilateral actions carried out by one state, or more states, or even from such one area of the international community," Berlusconi said. "This must be avoided."

The G-8 leaders had far more unity on Bush's new effort to achieve lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Their four-page closing statement endorsed the effort and recommended it be expanded into a comprehensive peace plan including Syria and Lebanon.

The leaders also sought to reassure worried financial markets that they were ready to work cooperatively to give a boost to the sluggish global economy.

"We are confident in the growth potential of our economies," the statement declared.

But the leaders — minus Bush, who left this Alpine spa town a day earlier for a Mideast summit — inserted a line in the final text before it was approved Tuesday saying they were determined to implement the 1997 Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Bush has pulled the United States from the pact, saying its anti-pollution targets are too costly for the U.S. economy.

On another area of disagreement, Chirac said "our American friends" refused to accept a European-backed proposal to freeze subsidized exports of food to Africa. The aim of such a freeze would be to help African farmers whose produce is undercut by subsidized food imports.

U.S. officials were ready to accept a freeze on European subsidies, but not American aid. "Perhaps that is understandable, but it's also regrettable," Chirac said.

The G-8 leaders sought to emphasize harmony in their closing news conferences and final statement, which called for an Iraq "at peace with its neighbors and firmly on the road to progress."

"One can go to war alone, but you can't build peace alone," Chirac said. "The situation demands that we regroup to try to pick Iraq up again."