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Postwar Iraq High on Bush, Blair Agenda - 2003-04-08

As fighting continues across the battlefield, debate continues on the structure and government of postwar Iraq. The item was high on the agenda of a meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and is the focus of a trip to Europe this week by the U.N. Secretary General.

Postwar Iraq featured prominently in talks in New York and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan met with Security Council member states' ambassadors to discuss what role the United Nations will play in Iraq after the shooting stops.

Mr. Annan told reporters the United Nations has a good track record in human rights, law, and other aspects of nation building. He added that U.N. involvement confers legitimacy on postwar reconstruction efforts. "So there are lots of areas where the United Nations can play a role," he says. "But above all, the U.N. involvement does bring legitimacy, which is necessary, necessary for the country, for the region and for the peoples around the world."

Afterward, Mr. Annan's spokesman announced the Secretary General will fly to Germany, Britain, Russia, and France this week for talks on postwar reconstruction. Of the four countries, only one Britain has backed the war in Iraq. President Bush, meanwhile, flew to Belfast to meet British Prime Minister Blair to discuss postwar reconstruction.

The issue of postwar Iraq is as potentially divisive in the United Nations as is the war itself.

The Bush administration has a U.S. military government-in-waiting that would run Iraq for a unspecified period of time until power could be transferred to an Iraqi interim authority. Under this plan, the United Nations would be relegated to a supporting role primarily in the humanitarian arena with no political authority. U.S. officials have said the running of postwar Iraq until an Iraqi administration can take power should be done by the countries that fought the war.

But many European nations want the postwar effort placed under U.N. auspices.

British Prime Minister Blair who joined the U.S. led coalition in the face of deep domestic opposition has said he would like to see a stronger role for the United Nations in Iraq. But his spokesman said Monday that it is up the United Nations itself to decide on that role.

Briefing reporters on the war situation, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Britain would like to see U.N. sanction for postwar operations in Iraq. But, he added, security should be in the hands of Coalition forces now fighting in the country. "But as far as U.N. support is concerned, it is absolutely clear that we want to see U.N. authority for the operations there, in exactly the way that we did in operations in Afghanistan," said Mr. Hoon. "But as far as maintaining security in the immediate aftermath of a conflict, it is obviously right and best that it should be carried out by forces on the ground."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who was invited to the Belfast summit to discuss Northern Ireland, said Monday any postwar administration would have greater legitimacy if it is under the authority of the international community.