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Bush, Blair to Discuss Iraqi War Reconstruction - 2003-04-05

The White House says the U.S.-led coalition will play the lead role in immediate post-war Iraq. Bush administration officials insist, however, there is a place for the U.N. in the process.

When President Bush meets early next week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the reconstruction of Iraq will be high on their agenda. While Britain is America's principal ally on Iraq, there are differences between them on the proper role for the U.N.

Tony Blair wants the U.N. to help administer a post-war Iraq. The Bush administration says it sees a role that goes beyond humanitarian aid, but stresses the exact function of the U.N. is a matter still open to discussion.

White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice defends the administration's approach saying as officials were planning for war, they were also planning to keep the peace. She says the U.S.-led coalition intends to have the leading role, having given "life and blood" to the war effort. She says the precise role of the United Nations should be determined by the coalition, the Iraqis, and the U.N. itself.

During a briefing for reporters, Ms. Rice stressed that Iraq is unique. She said it has an educated public and a sophisticated bureaucracy that can play an active role in rebuilding the country. She said a broad-based Iraqi Interim Authority could pave the way for an elected government.

Throughout the briefing, she emphasized that Iraqis will be running their own country in short order, saying the goal is to restore sovereignty as soon as possible. She said a plan to put a new American-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in place in the immediate post-war period is designed to quickly pave the way for a local administration.

Ms. Rice said repeatedly that from the start, Iraqis will be involved in the decision-making process. She said there are many expatriates and exiles with skills who want to return, at least temporarily, to help build a democratic Iraq. She went on to say no one should underestimate the ability of those inside Iraq to identify leaders in their midst who could help run a liberated country.

As she spoke, President Bush was meeting at the White House with a group of Iraqi exiles. Many experienced atrocities in their homeland, or lost members of their immediate families. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president felt it was important to share their stories.

"The meeting with the free Iraqis and the Iraqi-Americans today is a reminder to people about how much people care about freedom and liberty and how the voices of those who are fortunate enough to have left Iraq can speak freely without being tortured or killed," he said.

Those who participated in the meeting said they were not asked if they would like to take part in an interim authority. But several said they would be willing to return to Iraq if they thought it would help their homeland.