- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

The Bush administration said yesterday it remains determined to proceed with an international donors conference to help rebuild Iraq, despite divisions at the United Nations over the future of Iraq and paltry pledges to date from leading allies.

The White House and State Department yesterday said the Oct. 24-25 conference in Madrid was still on, despite comments from Russia and Germany that it would be better to delay the meeting.

“To the best of our knowledge, no government is suggesting that the conference be postponed,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “Everything is pointing straight ahead.”

U.S. officials and leaders of the interim Iraqi authority are eager for the conference to take place, to address an estimated $55 billion rebuilding and reconstruction bill for the country through 2007.

Sponsors of the conference include the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the World Bank.

Continued wrangling at the United Nations over a U.S. resolution outlining the U.N. role in Iraq’s political future has cast a shadow over the Madrid meeting. Many countries that opposed the U.S.-led war have expressed deep reluctance to contribute to the postwar tab without a new resolution.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, told reporters that Iraq “needs huge investments, but these investments can be used effectively only after political rules are established.”

Aides to Mr. Schroeder also suggested privately that the Madrid gathering be postponed, but Mr. Schroeder yesterday said he would leave the decision on timing up to host Spain.

A spokeswoman for EU External Commissioner Chris Patten said yesterday the European Union favored proceeding with the Madrid meeting, whether the U.N. Security Council acts or not.

“We can’t wait for a perfect peace in Iraq to decide what we want to do to help the people of Iraq,” said spokeswoman Emma Udwin in Brussels.

Mr. Boucher said U.N. negotiations are on hold as the United States decides whether it can accommodate changes demanded by France, Russia and other council members.

He repeated that the Bush administration and its allies are prepared to proceed with the political and economic rehabilitation program in Iraq without a U.N. blessing, if they decide a resolution would transfer political control to a new Iraqi state prematurely.

Mr. Boucher said he was “not aware” of any countries or organizations that have said they would boycott Madrid in the absence of a U.N. resolution, and noted that many countries already have pledged funds.

Just how much the Madrid gathering will generate is another question.

The World Bank, in a survey released last week, said Iraq’s battered economy could absorb only about $6 billion in infrastructure spending in 2004, although the State Department said international donors hope to increase that pace.

Congress is considering a bill to provide about $20 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq through 2004, but the European Union and Canada have earmarked only about $200 million each for Iraq.

Japan is expected to make a larger, multiyear pledge, but the overall non-U.S. contribution for the coming year is projected at only around $2 billion.

Iraqi officials have floated a target figure of $70 billion over the next five years.

Mr. Putin said yesterday that Russia would be “an observer” at the Madrid talks, and several other major powers have yet to make public any substantial promises of aid.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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