- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Several leading U.S. allies yesterday softened their opposition to a Bush administration draft proposal to expand the United Nations’ role in the troubled effort to rebuild Iraq.

Russia, France and Germany, who all opposed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, yesterday signaled they were willing to use the American text as the basis for intensive talks on a new resolution, while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was “optimistic” a compromise could be worked out soon.

Ambassadors from the 15 U.N. Security Council nations met behind closed doors yesterday in New York to discuss the draft resolution, which the United States hopes will induce more nations to contribute troops and resources to the reconstruction of Iraq.

“We think that there was a good discussion,” U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told reporters as he left yesterday’s meeting at the residence of the British ambassador. “I think there was satisfaction on the part of many delegations with the way in which we’re going about this process.”

The administration initially resisted a bigger role for the world body after the Security Council failed to support the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq, but has changed course with the mounting expense and manpower requirements of the postwar period.

In another bid to win international support, the Bush administration yesterday said it now backs a plan that would channel more lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq to non-U.S. firms.

Undersecretary of State Alan Larson told a news conference with foreign journalists that a World Bank-managed trust fund “should be separate but coordinated with the budget decisions that are taken by the authorities in Baghdad.”

France, Russia and Germany all want to see a larger political role for the United Nations in Iraq, and have pushed for a clear, quick deadline for returning control of the country to an Iraqi government.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, talking to reporters while on a trip to Uzbekistan, said yesterday the draft “needs very serious work.”

But the Russian diplomat added the American text “deserves attention because it reflects the principles Russia has been repeatedly fighting for.”

Both Paris and Berlin appeared yesterday to step back from the harsh initial assessments offered by President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder when the resolution was first released Thursday.

Mr. Schroeder, while insisting German troops would not take part in any Iraqi peacekeeping mission, said of the U.S. draft: “There has been movement and that must be recognized.”

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, another outspoken critic of the Iraq war, said in a radio interview yesterday that he “will come to the table in a constructive and open spirit” to discuss the resolution.

A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing was “taking a constructive attitude, and hopes all sides can reach a consensus as soon as possible.”

But the dispute over Iraq’s future spilled over into a summit of European Union foreign ministers in Italy yesterday, with one EU diplomat saying France has prepared as many as 10 amendments to the U.S. draft, including one calling for a “dramatic” gesture aimed at ending the U.S. occupation.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, another opponent of the war, said, “You cannot have a situation where the United States remains in control over what happens in Iraq; and at the same time, others have to move in and take care of security and reconstruction.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a speech at George Washington University yesterday, acknowledged that U.S. officials still have work to do to win over a majority of the Security Council and avoid a veto from the major powers — France, Russia, Britain and China.

“There are some of my Security Council colleagues who would like to move faster [and] some who say: ‘Be a little more careful,’” Mr. Powell said.

“We will listen to all of the comments that will be coming in, and we will try to adjust and adapt to those comments as long as it is consistent” with U.S. goals to rebuild Iraq and turn over political control in time to the Iraqis.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the reaction to the U.S. proposal in early discussions Thursday and yesterday was “generally positive,” although no nation has fully endorsed the U.S. resolution.

More critical than the French or German reaction may be those of India, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries who have been reluctant to contribute peacekeeping forces to Iraq without a clear U.N. mandate.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said the country is studying the U.S. draft intensely, but would not comment on whether India supported the U.S. plan.

U.S. officials say they plan to aggressively lobby for the resolution next week, although Mr. Boucher refused to offer a date on when a vote on the resolution might be held.

Mr. Powell in his address sketched a picture of an Iraq making good progress to recover economically and politically from three decades of misrule under Saddam. He cited rebuilt schools and hospitals, improving power delivery, and reviving oil exports.

But Mr. Ivanov attacked U.S. claims that things are getting better in Iraq.

“Day by day, the situation gets worse and worse, and this requires the help of the international community,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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