- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

BRUSSELS (AP) — European officials say the United States is showing a willingness to share control over Iraq’s reconstruction in its push for foreign help in footing the bill, which is expected to run into the tens of billions of dollars.

U.S. officials today will meet their counterparts from the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, the World Bank and the United Nations in Brussels to prepare for a donors conference next month in the Spanish capital, Madrid.

Central to the talks are proposals for a fund, run by the United Nations and the World Bank, to channel aid toward restoring key services — from paying teachers’ salaries and equipping looted hospitals to re-establishing the banking system and rebuilding roads.

The World Bank is drawing up an assessment of Iraq’s needs expected to be matched by pledges at the Oct. 23-24 Madrid conference. The event is scheduled to draw more than 50 nations and international organizations.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, told The Washington Post last week that Iraq would need “several tens of billions” of dollars to function again.

With its military expenses in Iraq running at $3.9 billion a month, and a federal deficit heading for a record $480 billion next year, Washington faces a pressing need to find partners to cover the costs. Democrats and Republicans alike have been telling President Bush that he must get international help.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that the administration was seeking more funds for Iraq. “We are working closely with Congress to make sure we are providing all the necessary resources,” he said.

“We’re working to determine the exact needs and the precise costs going forward,” he told reporters.

Compounding the problem is continued violence in Iraq that has stymied efforts to get oil exports flowing again and scared off potential investors.

The turmoil has wrecked hopes that Iraq can pay quickly for its own recovery using oil profits under the U.S.-led administration and even become a lucrative hunting ground for American companies seeking contracts after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

“We’re watching the Americans verge on a change of heart,” said Rosemary Hollis, an Iraq specialist at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs.

“Astonishingly, they thought before this that not only would Iraqi oil pay for the reconstruction, but also that U.S. companies … would make considerable money out of it.”

Many potential donors insist on international control over any recovery program and open access to reconstruction contracts.

EU officials say Washington has reacted positively to a proposal for a World Bank- and U.N.-controlled fund that would be coordinated with the program run by the U.S.-led administration in Iraq and funded by Iraqi oil revenue.

Diplomats say placing reconstruction under U.N. auspices would make it easier to garner contributions from nations that opposed the war, notably France and Germany.

“As soon as there are proposals for rebuilding, we will be glad to assess what we could do within our limited capabilities,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the Handelsblatt newspaper last week.

His Belgian counterpart, Louis Michel, another outspoken critic of the Iraq war, said last week that Belgium might be willing to donate money if the United Nations was “playing a central role” in reconstruction.

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