Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Paris Thursday for talks focusing on the post-war reconstruction of Iraq with foreign ministers of the other G8 industrial powers and Russia. Mr. Powell says the United States will not rush the process of creating an interim Iraqi government.
The Paris meeting, which will lay groundwork for the G8 summit in Evian, France early next month, will be the first joint meeting of big-power foreign ministers since the Iraq war.
Officials here are hopeful it can help clear away lingering friction between the Iraq war allies and countries that opposed the conflict including France, Russia and Germany.
The State Department says key topics will include reconstruction and stabilization in Iraq along with terrorism and weapons proliferation, including the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
The G8 talks follow a decision Wednesday by the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, to set back by a month, to mid-July, a national conference of Iraqis to choose the interim governing authority. The decision drew immediate protests from Iraqi political groups.
But at a news conference here with the Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Secretary Powell defended the action, saying the timeline chosen by Mr. Bremer is appropriate and that the process is too important to rush through.
"It might disappoint some people. It might make other parties pleased," he said. "What we have to do is do it right, and not be in a hurry, but do it right. So that we put in place a responsible government, a lasting government, a government that will be reflective of all the people of Iraq, and we should not be in a hurry. And that is the point the president has made repeatedly. We are there to do it right, however long it might take."
Under questioning, Mr. Powell also confirmed a New York Times report Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that two mysterious truck trailers found in Iraq were mobile units to produce germs for biological weapons.
The discovery is the most tantalizing bit of evidence to date that Iraq had a germ-warfare program, even though no actual weapons agents were found. Mr. Powell said U.S. experts believe the trailers could have had no other use.
"The intelligence community has really looked hard at these vans, and we can find no other purpose for them," he emphasized. "Although you can't find actual germs on them, they have been cleaned and we don't know whether they had been used for that purpose or not. But they were certainly designed and constructed for that purpose. And we have taken our time on this one because we wanted to make sure we got it right. And the intelligence community, I think, is convinced now that that's the purpose they served."
Mr. Powell described such vans in a dramatic appearance in the U.N. Security Council in February to build support for military action against Iraq. The secretary said he did not consider the discovery of the trailers "vindication" of his U.N. testimony, since he said he was confident of the veracity of the information at the time.
He said the former regime of Saddam Hussein was in "material breach" of U.N. weapons resolutions as the United States always maintained, and said he is sure that as experts examine sites around Iraq, more information on its weapons of mass destruction programs "will be forthcoming."