- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

BRUSSELS — International donors agreed on the need for an international trust fund to funnel billions of dollars in reconstruction to Iraq — independently of the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad, officials said yesterday.

Setting up the fund, which is expected to be administered by the World Bank and United Nations, will increase chances of raising aid money from nations such as France and Germany, who opposed the Iraq war and were reluctant to channel aid through the U.S.-led authorities.

Speaking to the EU’s parliament in Strasbourg, France, Chris Patten, the European Union’s external affairs commissioner, said the fund should be “separate but coordinated” with the work of the U.S.-led coalition authorities in Iraq.

“We are prepared to help … provided there is an adequate multilateral umbrella for our contribution,” Mr. Patten said.

With costs of the occupation mounting and Iraqi oil exports slow to bring in large revenues, Washington is trying to get other nations to help with the billions of dollars needed in rebuilding Iraq. But in turn, the United States has come under pressure to cede some of its control over running Iraq.

Experts from the United States, EU, United Arab Emirates, Japan, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations discussed details of the fund and assessed Iraq’s most pressing aid needs at a meeting yesterday in Brussels.

In a joint statement after the talks, all participants “confirmed their commitment to supporting reconstruction in Iraq.”

Although final details are only expected to be agreed at a conference with more than 50 donor nations and international organizations in Madrid next month, officials said there was an agreement in principle to set up the fund.

“There is consensus in the donor community that there should be such a fund,” said EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin.

European nations also want to see a progressively greater involvement of the fledgling Iraqi authorities alongside the United Nations in the reconstruction plans, officials said.

Also speaking at the EU assembly, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called for the United Nations to play a central role, adding that “it is in everybody’s interests that reconstruction in Iraq succeeds.”

Once wary of accepting international control over the reconstruction plans, the United States is now actively seeking help to cover the costs, which are expected to far exceed receipts from an Iraq oil industry bedeviled by attacks on pipelines.

Coalition authorities are using receipts from Iraqi oil exports to finance rebuilding. Officials in Baghdad estimate oil revenues could reach $12 billion next year.

Democrats and Republicans alike have been telling President Bush he must get international help as U.S. military expenses in Iraq run at $3.9 billion a month, and the federal deficit is heading for a record $480 billion next year.

The Oct. 23-24 conference in the Spanish capital is expected to draw concrete pledges from donors.

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