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Bush-Blair Meeting to Focus on Iraq, Mideast, Northern Ireland - 2003-04-07

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair meet in Northern Ireland later Monday for talks on the Iraq conflict, the Middle East, and the Northern Ireland peace process.

British officials say the fast-moving battlefield developments in Iraq lend a sense of urgency to the summit.

The leaders are meeting for the third time in just over three weeks, and post-war arrangements for Iraq's governance and reconstruction will be high on the agenda.

There are signs that Mr. Blair is more interested in a leading role for the United Nations in post-war Iraq than is Mr. Bush.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Afghanistan offers an example of the kind of U.N. involvement Britain wants. "It is absolutely clear that we want to seek U.N. authority for the operations there in exactly the way we did in operations in Afghanistan," Mr. Hoon said.

In Afghanistan, the United Nations provided humanitarian relief, and supervised the formation of an interim government, after the Taleban were overthrown.

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Sunday the Afghanistan model will not be followed in Iraq.

The issue of U.N. involvement is important to Mr. Blair, as he tries to repair relations between the United States and the rest of Europe. France, Germany, and Russia opposed the war, but now call for U.N. administration of post-war Iraq.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Blair tried to play down the differences.

He said discussions have focused on a transition period of about 90 days, during which Iraq will be administered by a retired American army general, Jay Garner. Then the plan calls for an Iraqi interim authority under Iraqi leadership, followed by a properly constituted Iraqi government.

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair will also discuss the Middle East peace process. Mr. Blair has been pushing for publication of Mr. Bush's "roadmap" for the Israelis and Palestinians to end their conflict, culminating in the creation of a Palestinian state.

The political impasse in Northern Ireland is also on the agenda. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will join those talks on Tuesday. Mr. Blair's spokesman says President Bush will recommit the U.S. government to support the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement. Mr. Blair is seeking a final settlement before elections scheduled for next month to restore local government in the long-troubled province.