- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

NEW YORK — France and Germany yesterday rejected a U.S. proposal to broaden the United Nations’ role in Iraq, and the Bush administration countered by asking for “constructive input” instead of criticism from the two recalcitrant allies.

The exchange came as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to American forces in Iraq, where he called for an additional 15,000 troops from other nations to join the U.S.-led coalition.

At the United Nations in New York, U.S. diplomats met with their counterparts from four other veto-wielding members on the Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — to discuss a U.S. draft resolution that would urge U.N. members to contribute troops and cash to stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

The meeting, behind closed doors at the U.S. Mission, followed criticism of the latest American proposal by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during a meeting in Dresden, Germany.

Mr. Chirac called the U.S. proposal “very, very far from a resolution that we could support.”

“Truthfully, it appears quite far from what we consider to be the priority objective, which is the transfer of political responsibility to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible,” Mr. Chirac said.

Mr. Schroeder welcomed the new U.S. text, but urged a greater role for the United Nations in the political process than the American proposal appeared to suggest.

“I agree with [Mr. Chirac] when he says not dynamic enough, not sufficient,” Mr. Schroeder said.

The two leaders, whose opposition blocked the United Nations from backing the U.S.-led invasion this spring, vowed to “closely coordinate their positions.”

Russia, which has been sending mixed signals on various Iraq-related proposals, indicated that it could be willing to send troops to Iraq.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the news agency Interfax that he “won’t exclude it outright,” but Russia’s response “all depends on a specific resolution.”

China, the fifth permanent member of the council, reaffirmed its intention to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction and stability, but Beijing offered no specific comments on the latest U.S. proposal.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that he awaited specific suggestions from France and Germany.

“I’d be delighted to receive their constructive input and take it from there. I don’t sense from their statement that they said what exactly they are looking for, or who they would turn [control of Iraq] over to if we were turning it over right away.”

He said the latest U.S. proposal would ask the Iraqis to come up with a plan as to how they would like to proceed with free elections.

“Let’s see what the Iraqis think they’re capable of doing, and with what support from the international community,” he said.

In Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters after talks with U.S. civilian and military chiefs that the security situation had improved since major combat was declared over May 1. “There’s been some measurable progress,” he said.

He also said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in Iraq, had not asked for more U.S. troops but said that another division — about 15,000 — of non-American troops would be welcome.

Some 20,000 to 22,000 non-U.S. soldiers are already deployed in Iraq, about half from Britain.

The Pentagon is spending close to $4 billion a month to maintain about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and the administration plans to ask Congress for $60 billion to $80 billion this year, mostly for reconstruction.

Mr. Rumsfeld also said efforts should be made to bolster the size of the Iraqi security forces.

Gen. Sanchez said the involvement of more nations would send a message to the Iraqi people that the international community was committed to stabilizing their country.

In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was “a breakthrough, a sad one” that changed attitudes at the United Nations and is allowing the Bush administration to seek a resolution for more international support in Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz said the issue of a U.N. resolution “didn’t sort of emerge out of nowhere a few days ago. It’s been on our agenda ever since the fall of Baghdad.”

He and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, spoke to reporters in two brief Capitol Hill news conferences after holding separate closed-door meetings with Senate and House members.

Meanwhile, radical Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr said in remarks published yesterday that U.S.-led forces in Iraq must leave.

“Sometimes a lesser devil goes and a greater devil takes over,” Mr. Sadr was quoted as saying in Iraq by Kuwait’s Al-Seyassah daily. He said conditions under the U.S. military were worse now than during the rule of Saddam.

The U.S. effort to engage the United Nations, following an acrimonious split in the Security Council last spring, marks a policy reversal.

The latest U.S. proposal — which officials say is more of a starting point for discussions than a draft resolution — does not address demands by some nations that Washington cede political power to the United Nations.

It calls on the United Nations to endorse the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, and urges the 25-member council to issue its own timetable for holding democratic elections.

Sharon Behn in Washington contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire services.

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