- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Kuwait said yesterday it will offer “generous aid” at an Iraq donors conference opening today in Madrid, but France and Germany said they would be offering no new funds for postwar reconstruction.

Kuwait, which has already spent $900 million on humanitarian aid to its neighbor, is one of more than 70 nations gathering for the two-day conference, where U.S. officials are hoping to capitalize on the spirit of last week’s unanimous U.N. Security Council vote.

“What is important at the moment is that the economy be jump-started, because it’s flat on its back,” John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN.

The United States has not set a dollar goal for the conference, although the World Bank estimated in a report last week that it will take an estimated $36 billion to bring Iraq back to prewar standards. No formal pledges will be made until tomorrow.

The World Bank report looked at requirements in 14 areas, including schools and education, health care, electricity generation and water infrastructure. The report did not consider security needs or the costs of rebuilding Iraq’s oil industry, as both areas remain under control of the coalition forces.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan both are scheduled to attend the conference, but several European powers are sending lower-level delegations. France is sending Trade Minister Francois Loos instead of its foreign minister.

“We don’t foresee any additional aid at this stage, either in terms of financial aid or in cooperation in the military domain,” Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday in Paris. “To us, the starting point is truly the full and complete recognition of Iraqi sovereignty.”

France has, however, promised to help through the European Union, which has pledged $233 million.

The U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, extended an olive branch in an interview yesterday with the French newspaper Le Figaro.

“It’s time for the French government to put aside all the disputes we may have had in February and March,” he said of the prewar diplomatic standoff. “It’s time the French government realized we are going to rebuild Iraq and that there is a role for France, as there is for all large countries.”

Germany also had bad news, saying its budget crisis precluded any contribution beyond the $224 million it has already pledged. Development Minister Heidemarie Weiczorek-Zeul also said Germany was unwilling to forgive an estimated $4.6 billion in Iraqi debt.

Other contributions are trickling in: The World Bank has promised to lend Iraq between $3 billion and $5 billion in the next five years; Japan has promised $1.5 billion; Britain has pledged $439 million through 2005; Spain has promised $300 million; South Korea has offered $200 million; Canada has pledged $150 million; and Denmark has promised $50 million and 500 troops.

Even Iran is sending a delegation to the conference, headed by its foreign minister, amid expectations it will make a significant donation.

“Some leading nations have already stepped up to prove they are on the side of the Iraqi people, Japan most notably,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Britain’s Sky News earlier this week.

“Spain has stepped in for $300 million. [Britain] has been fantastic with, I think, a total of about $900 million over several years. So I think it will be a good demonstration of support for Iraq.”

Several organizations, including financier George Soros’ Open Society, have criticized the conference, citing a lack of transparency in Iraq’s finances.

Amnesty International asked yesterday who would benefit from the reconstruction effort.

“Projects should prioritize Iraqi human rights, including their right to personal security, health, education, work and reform of the judicial system,” it said in a prepared statement.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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