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3 nations to discuss U.S., Iraq

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BERLIN — The leaders of France, Germany and Britain announced on Tuesday that they would hold a summit meeting here on Saturday that seems aimed at working out a common position on the U.S. request for help in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

The meeting, their first since the Iraq war ended five months ago, "will serve to reach common ground on foreign policy after the differing views that arose before the Iraq war," the German government said in a statement.

The meeting, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as host, will follow by a week an unsuccessful effort by the five permanent members of the Security Council to bridge differences over Iraq policy between the United States and some European countries led by France.

In essence, the French, with German support, have said that they will agree to authorize a U.N. force requested by the United States only if the Americans agree to transfer most of the authority in Iraq from the occupation authorities to the Security Council. The French have also asked for sovereignty to be transferred to Iraq in accordance with an accelerated timetable that the United States has called unreasonable.

The three leaders who will meet Saturday were deeply split over U.S. policy toward Iraq in the months leading up to and including the war, with France and Germany vigorously opposed to military action and Britain just as vigorously backing the United States.

Since the war, Britain has continued to support U.S. control in Iraq, but it has also been more receptive than the United States to seeking Security Council authorization for postwar reconstruction.

"It will be a chance for fairly wide-ranging discussions on economic matters, international affairs," a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the scheduled Saturday meeting. "Obviously, Iraq will be discussed and also other European matters."

A major theme of French and German policy both before and since the Iraqi war has been the need for the European Union to assume common positions on foreign policy and security questions. But that goal was set back by the ferocious disagreements within Europe provoked by the U.S. drive to undertake military action in Iraq, with France and Germany disagreeing not only with Britain, Italy and Spain, but also with some countries about to join the European Union, especially Poland.

The main contention between the French and the Germans on one side and the United States on the other has to do with the U.S. approach to the Security Council for help in Iraq. The United States two weeks ago drafted the text of a proposed Security Council resolution that would authorize a U.N. force for Iraq. But even as the text was circulated, U.S. officials made it clear that they wanted the United States to remain firmly in control of that force and of the political effort to build a new, democratic Iraqi government.