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Bush makes international law scoff comment

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''International law has to be applied and restrictions are not helpful on the issue,'' German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Thursday.

That brought a sharp retort from President Bush.

''International law? I better call my lawyer,'' Bush said.

Japan calls for international unity in Iraq reconstruction
By Natalie Obiko Pearson, Associated Press, 12/12/2003 07:55

TOKYO (AP) Japan called for ''international cooperation'' in rebuilding Iraq Friday, but stopped short of criticizing the United States for barring war opponents from winning reconstruction contracts.

The European Union, meanwhile, reiterated that it would investigate the validity of the U.S. decision to bar opponents of the Iraq war from reconstruction contracts.

Europe's foreign affairs chief Javier Solana condemned the U.S. decision to exclude opponents from business deals, describing at as unwise.

''My reaction is that certainly it doesn't help harmonize our relations especially,'' said Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed that theme in Berlin, calling the decision ''unfortunate'' and ''not unifying'' at a time diplomats were trying to rebuild an international consensus on Iraq.

The White House says countries wanting a share of the $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts in the 2004 U.S. budget must participate militarily in the postwar effort. The decision bars Germany, France, Russia and Canada who all opposed the war from winning contracts.

But at the same time President Bush called on those nations to help in granting Iraq some debt relief and administration officials adopted a stance of strategic ambiguity Thursday. They left the door open to letting other nations bid on the contracts if they forgave some of Iraq's debt, estimated at more than $100 billion.

''You are saying that countries cannot participate on tenders and at the same time you are asking those same countries to cooperate, to give money, to fight off the debt,'' Solana said.

The European Union said it would look into the validity of the U.S. exclusion of opponents of the Iraq war from reconstruction contracts.

''International law has to be applied and restrictions are not helpful on the issue,'' German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Thursday.

That brought a sharp retort from President Bush.

''International law? I better call my lawyer,'' Bush said.

German government spokesman Thomas Steg sought to play down the remark's significance, saying ''one should not dramatize'' the entire spat over Iraq reconstruction contracts.

He pointed to former Secretary of State James A. Baker trip next week as an emissary, which includes a stop in Berlin for talks with Schroeder, as a sign that the administration was open to discussion. He also noted Bush's phone chat with Schroeder about the issue this week. ''This telephone conversation was extremely friendly and businesslike,'' Steg told reporters.

Of Iraq's foreign debt, some $40 billion is owed to the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and other countries among 19 nations that belong to the Paris Club, an umbrella organization that conducts debt negotiations. At least $80 billion more is owed to other Arab countries and nations outside the Paris Club.

''Japan hopes the reconstruction and stabilization of Iraq should be carried out through international cooperation,'' chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda said. ''We should think about ways for the international community to cooperate.''

Japan has offered the second-largest pledge for Iraqi reconstruction after the United States, promising $1.5 billion in grants for 2004 and $3.5 billion in loans for 2005-07.

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