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WAR WITH IRAQ / DIPLOMACY

Blair Wants the U.N. to Possess Crucial Role in Rebuilding Iraq

British prime minister and Bush are meeting today to discuss how to put the international institution at the center of a postwar recovery.

March 26, 2003|Sebastian Rotella and Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writers

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Washington for talks with President Bush today about the war in Iraq and a role for the United Nations in postwar reconstruction.

Saying that Iraqi resistance had been expected, Blair told reporters that the Anglo-American military strategy was "unfolding exactly according to plan."

Blair seemed rejuvenated by the surge in public support in recent days. Looking past the combat to an Iraq without Saddam Hussein, he said he is determined to secure a U.N. resolution that will put the badly divided international institution at the center of Iraq's political and economic recovery.

Blair led the unsuccessful charge for a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. When the diplomatic process broke down, he took a political beating here and comments about his weary, dispirited appearance filled the media.

Since combat began, the leaders of the antiwar bloc -- France, Germany and Russia -- have not wavered. They said they will work in the U.N. to block any reconstruction plan that gives British and U.S. forces a preeminent role in Iraq's future.

Foreshadowing diplomatic fights to come, France, Germany and Russia are delaying what Britain and the U.S. hoped would be a straightforward resolution transferring power from the Iraqi government to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to run relief efforts.

Annan warned that the southern city of Basra is facing a humanitarian crisis since food and electricity were cut off five days ago.

To ensure that political bickering doesn't slow aid any further, U.S. national security advisor Condoleezza Rice met Annan at the United Nations on Tuesday to discuss immediate relief efforts, as well as longer-term provisions for rebuilding Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called Annan twice to talk about the transition "from military conflict to civilian rule to an Iraqi interim administration," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The U.S. and Britain are proposing that Annan oversee the U.N.'s "oil-for-food" program if the Iraqi government dissolves during the war. But the ultimate aim, Boucher said, "is to have Iraqis running the program and eventually running an economy that doesn't require the program."

Those changes will require council approval. France, Germany, Russia and others on the Security Council have vowed to block any move that would legitimize the military action against Iraq that they opposed.

In London, Blair dismissed the idea that he again has chosen a path that could isolate him from Europe while straining his alliance with Washington.

On the contrary, Blair said the war has made it imperative to heal wounds in the international community and to make a new effort to seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians. After meeting with Bush at Camp David today, Blair plans to meet Thursday with Annan.

The prime minister said he and Bush will discuss "how we get America and Europe working again together as partners, not as rivals. To assess the best way of dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. How we rebuild Iraq post-Saddam. And also, of course, our approach to the Middle East peace process and the Arab world more generally."

Blair said he talks to Bush on the phone every day. Despite U.S. impatience with the diplomatic debacle at the U.N., Blair said the president shares his view that the U.N. must pass a resolution to plan for Iraq's recovery.

The U.N. will overcome its divisions because of the urgent need to help the Iraqi people, he said.

"The details of that we will discuss with allies in the U.N. and with others," he said. "There may be certain diplomatic difficulties, but ... the important thing after all the diplomatic division there has been is that the international community comes back together."

Blair's mission as bridge-builder also emphasizes the importance of enlisting Bush to renew the Middle East peace process, as the president has announced.

Blair hopes that initiative will calm the rage in the Arab world over the invasion of Iraq, as well as smoothing tensions between Europe and the United States.

If the serious rifts generated by the war persist after the shooting has stopped, he said, the world will be more dangerous and unstable.

"There is, at the end of this, going to have to be a discussion, and indeed a reckoning, about the relations between America and Europe," Blair said. "If Europe and America split apart from each other, the loser is not going to be Britain. We will retain our position with Europe and we will retain our strong position with the United States. The loser will be the wider world. It will be far harder to make the international order stable and secure."

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Rotella reported from London and Farley from the United Nations.

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