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Powell Declines to Forecast How Much Aid Will Be Raised for Iraq's Reconstruction

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Madrid for the international donor's conference for Iraqi reconstruction opening Thursday. He declines to forecast how much money will be raised in the two-day gathering but insists the amount will be significant.

Mr. Powell and other Bush administration officials have been deliberately vague about their expectations for the Madrid conference, not wanting to set a benchmark that, if missed, would invite media reports of failure.

But in a talk with reporters enroute to Madrid, Mr. Powell insisted that prospects for the fund-raising exercise had improved considerably since the unanimous approval of an American-backed U.N. Security Council resolution last week inviting a wider international role in Iraq.

The secretary noted that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was initially critical of the U.S. resolution, would deliver the keynote speech to the conference Thursday. He conceded that the conference would raise no where near the $56 billion in reconstruction money that the World Bank and U.S. officials have estimated that Iraq will need over the next four years.

But he said the sum generated in Madrid, on top of the $20 billion the Bush administration has requested, and apparently will get from Congress, will be significant. "I don't know what you guys think the number ought to be in order to write your headlines. But I think it's going to be a significant amount that's coming forward. Compared to where we were a couple of weeks ago, and what people were saying a couple weeks ago, I think it's going to be a fairly significant amount. Is it going to be $30 billion? No. Is it going to $20 billion? Doubtful. What's it going to be? I don't know. But we will know soon enough," he said.

Mr. Powell said the $56 billion figure was a goal "that we have to work for," but does not need to be met immediately.

He said the Bush administration found the Iraqi infrastructure more severely damaged than anticipated, not because of the fighting earlier this year, but due to, in his words "30 years of abuse by the Saddam Hussein regime."

The secretary said President Bush has been candid with Congress about the rebuilding needs and said the initial Congressional votes for the $20 billion aid package, shows that the American people understand that it is a "worthy investment."

Officials traveling with Mr. Powell said they expect as many as 60 countries to take part in the Madrid conference, about the same number that joined in the Afghanistan fund-raising meeting in Tokyo last year.

Mr. Powell and Treasury Secretary John Snow are the co-leaders of the U.S. delegation to Madrid and the secretary of state addresses the gathering Friday morning. He can be expected to renew an appeal for the restructuring of Iraq's existing debt and for outright grants, as opposed to credits for reconstruction.

He said the "worst thing to happen" would be for Iraq to begin generating revenue from a revived oil industry and have it go to debt servicing.