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Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

Bush, Blair confer on strategy for rebuilding postwar Iraq

British leader will also discuss concerns at U.N.

March 27, 2003

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— A week into the war with Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday flew across the Atlantic to confer with President Bush on military strategy, the urgent demand for relief aid for the Iraqis and the long-term reconstruction of their country.

The summit, the leaders' second in 10 days, was at the Camp David presidential retreat as the two allies looked ahead to another round of hard-nosed diplomacy at the United Nations.

"Obviously, it's important that any postconflict Iraqi administration have the broadest possible support. And that's why the United Nations role is important," Blair told Parliament before he left for Washington.

Bush agrees, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, but the "exact role is something we'll talk about."

Pentagon war planners envision a U.S.-led civilian administrator to oversee Iraq, once it has been secured by the military. But at the State Department, diplomats are leaning more toward some sort of U.N. oversight.

At issue is a pair of wartime concerns -- the quick distribution of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfires of the war and the later reconstruction of their country, including an interim government.

One possibility is for the U.N. Security Council to resurrect the disbanded oil-for-food program so that U.N. monitors can return to organize relief efforts -- a proposal that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expects to be approved.

He said he had already conferred with the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and found them receptive.

"They are concerned about the Iraqi civilian population," he said. "So, I have no doubt that the council will come to a satisfactory conclusion on the oil for food."

Long-term reconstruction and other postwar issues, however, are tougher matters, Annan suggested. "The U.N. has played such roles in the past," he said, "but obviously that is something that the council will have to address."

Blair plans to meet today with Annan in New York after his overnight consultations with Bush.

Underlying the emerging new round of U.N. negotiations is lingering bitterness over a second resolution sought by the United States, Britain and Spain to reaffirm the use of military force to disarm Iraq.

The allies had to abandon the effort after France, leading extensive opposition, vowed to use its power as a permanent member to block any resolution, along with Russia.

Now, though, Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States, says France is ready to move on with a proposal to revive the oil-for-food program for at least 45 days.

"Let's not discuss what happened in the past, or what will happen in the future. Let's focus on that," he told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.

And German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger suggested Germany, which also opposed the war, was exploring a similar track. "If you're looking for international support from other parts of the world, this U.N. flag is the way to do it," he said, urging the Bush administration to work with the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq.

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