- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

France has a "moral duty" to participate in the reconstruction of a postwar Iraq, even as it works to block a U.S.-led military strike against Saddam Hussein, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said yesterday.
But U.S. hopes for a major contribution from allies in the expensive rebuilding job in Iraq suffered a blow when a leading European Union foreign policy official said the deep divisions in Europe over the war could limit EU contributions after the conflict.
Mr. Levitte, at a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday, said his country remains opposed to any U.N. resolution clearing the way for immediate military action to disarm Saddam.
But he said France was prepared to contribute to a rebuilding effort that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars over many years.
"We don't see participation in Iraq's reconstruction as a privilege," said Mr. Levitte. "We see it as a moral duty."
The ambassador predicted it would be years before any new Iraqi government could fully exploit the country's oil reserves, and that the United States faced the choice of funding the massive humanitarian and infrastructure challenges alone or with allies.
The bill "will be huge," he said. "We consider it would be done better under a United Nations umbrella, as is being done in Afghanistan now."
Boris Nemtsov, chairman of the reformist Union of Right Forces party in the Russian State Duma, said in an interview yesterday that Russia also would be eager to participate in the reconstruction effort, despite its reservations on a war, to protect Moscow's extensive economic interests in Iraq.
"War is war and reconstruction is reconstruction," Mr. Nemtsov told reporters and editors in a luncheon at The Washington Times. "They are two different subjects."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed yesterday the U.S. government was eager to enlist foreign governments, international organizations and private relief groups in the Iraqi reconstruction, although U.S. officials have said many potential donors are reluctant to commit during the current delicate diplomatic situation.
But EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten warned that a failure to secure U.N. backing for military action would make reconstruction aid a much tougher political sell inside the 15-member union.
He told members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, that it is "a simple observation of fact" that it will be "very much easier to persuade [the EU] to be generous if there is no dispute about the legitimacy of the military action that has taken place."
Mr. Levitte, speaking at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, denied that French opposition to the United States reflected French commercial interests and claims on lucrative Iraqi oil fields.
"If we were just interested in Iraqi oil, I think we would want to join in military action as soon as possible to be present in Iraq the day after the war," he said. "Our [anti-war] position would be totally suicidal."
The early post-Saddam years are expected to bring a heavy financial burden in establishing security and rebuilding an economy staggered by more than a decade of international sanctions. But Iraq's energy and other resources have led some analysts to conclude it may present highly attractive investing opportunities in the longer term.
The Bush administration thus far has rejected calls to freeze out countries that opposed the war in the postconflict reconstruction effort, but U.S. officials have pointedly noted that a new Iraq government might take that opposition into account in their own reconstruction plans.

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