- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Bush administration officials wrangling with senators over the cost of the Iraq war said yesterday the United States would hold a donor conference on June 24 to hash out what it will take to get that country up and running, and who will foot the bill.

Undersecretary of Defense Dov S. Zakheim said the conference, to be held in New York, would take stock of Iraq’s needs and identify what countries would contribute in preparation for a ministerial-level meeting of donors to be held in September.

But senators from both sides of the aisle, sharply criticizing Pentagon, State Department and Treasury officials for their lack of details on the financial and human cost of rebuilding Iraq, seemed unmoved by the announcement.

“Why are we waiting until September? What is the mystery here?” snapped Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “By September, the world is going to change significantly in Iraq.”

Dismissing arguments from Mr. Zakheim and Undersecretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Alan P. Larson that assessing Iraq’s development needs is a “rolling process,” Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes quietly asked, “Are we going to a donor conference with no guidelines of what we want to get?”

Mr. Zakheim responded that if the United States laid out what percentage of the tab the international community should pick up, it would run a “risk of scaring people off.”

Lawmakers also grilled the officials — who included U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew S. Natsios and Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs John B. Taylor — on financing the reconstruction of Iraq and military deployments there as the level of discontent with U.S. efforts continues to plague the coalition.

“What’s the plan, Stan?” asked Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and ranking member of the committee, trying to pry information from officials unclear as to future costs.

“If you haven’t thought that through, then you shouldn’t be at the table,” Mr. Biden said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and committee chairman, also warned that the staggering debt left by Saddam Hussein’s regime threatened to crush any fledgling Iraqi government.

Mr. Hagel also underscored his frustration with Mr. Zakheim’s declaration that U.S. and British troop levels in Iraq are classified information.

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