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Last Updated:  Friday, 11 April, 2003, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Anti-war leaders discuss Iraq
Nikolai Gorshkov
BBC correspondent in Saint Petersburg

Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroeder
This is the "anti-Belfast summit", some commentators have said
The leaders of Russia, France and Germany are meeting in Saint Petersburg to discuss their strategy in dealing with post-Saddam Iraq and the victorious coalition.

They were among the most vocal critics of the US-led action.

Speaking between bilateral meetings with his two counterparts, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the US-led invasion of Iraq had had "regrettable" results.

He reaffirmed that the United Nations should take the lead role in resolving the conflict.

The three leaders were "convinced of the lack of prospects for a military solution to the Iraqi problem", he said.

The three leaders will come together after bilateral meetings to discuss a final policy.

Ahead of the talks, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the three nations should discuss contributing to post-war reconstruction by wiping clean the debts Iraq owed them.

But Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the lower Russian parliamentary house, rebuffed that suggestion, saying Russia would only discuss debt issues with the lawful government of Iraq.

"Iraq is not the 51st state of America," he said according to news agency AP.

UN ally

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have a tradition of meeting in Saint Petersburg.

This time there is a new sense of urgency, with French President Jacques Chirac joining them to try to prop up their alliance for peace.

Some commentators have already dubbed it an anti-Belfast summit.

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan: was invited to St Petersburg, but decided against it

The reference is to the meeting of US President George W Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in Northern Ireland this week, where they discussed post-war reconstruction.

Russia, France and Germany insist this should be done under the auspices of the UN.

They have an ally in UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been arguing that only the UN can lend legitimacy to any new government in Baghdad.

He was invited to join the three leaders in Saint Petersburg, but decided against it.

Some Russian observers believe he did not want to be seen lending his authority to the split among the UN Security Council members.

They are also sceptical of the new entente cordiale between Russia, France and Germany, suggesting it would be better to make up with the US and Britain and restore unity within the UN.

In Washington on Thursday, Mr Wolfowitz countered the main argument of the three European nations by insisting the UN "can't be in charge".

He suggested the nations should help with a financial policy.

"I hope they'll think about the very large debts that come from money that was lent to Saddam Hussein to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of repression," he said.

Following their summit, the three European leaders will open a seminar on Saturday on international security.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"Shoulder to shoulder in Saint Petersburg, they stressed the importance of the United Nations"



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