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What U.S. Gains Is Mostly Political

Major nations still reject sending troops to Iraq, but U.N. backing makes it easier for others to help. And Bush is likely to benefit at home.

October 17, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq won't bring Washington much of the aid or troops it covets. Yet in return for a vague promise to broaden international control, Washington has won a politically valuable U.N. blessing to continue reshaping the country.

The resolution means the United States can describe the occupying troops under its command as a "multinational force." And an Iraqi government that was handpicked by Americans now has official U.N. recognition as the entity that "embodies the sovereignty" of Iraq.

To be sure, Russia, France, Germany and Pakistan have made it clear that the resolution did not go far enough to persuade them to contribute troops or money.

But the U.N. stamp of approval means that some allied governments facing antiwar opposition at home -- including Britain's -- now have political cover that will make it easier for them to help out.

Significantly, the U.N. blessing is also likely to open the way for international institutions such as the World Bank to contribute. The organization is considering whether to lend billions to Iraq, but its rules prohibit it from doing so unless the government is recognized as legitimate.

An international donors conference to be held in Madrid next week probably still won't attract the tens of billions in pledges the United States would like to see committed to the reconstruction over the next few years.

But had the resolution failed, the fund-raising prospects would have been far worse and the risk of political embarrassment much higher. France and Germany now say they will at least attend the conference.

The resolution also offers a political dividend for President Bush at home.

Amid a debate about the administration's request for an additional $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, critics from both parties have been pushing the White House to do more to round up international help. Polls show a large majority of Americans -- facing a bill of about $1,000 per family -- share this view.

"The administration has needed to look like it was trying hard to share the burden," said James M. Lindsay, the director of research at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former member of the National Security Council.

Now Bush can say he's tried. And if other countries don't come through with pledges, he can argue that it is not his fault.

If the World Bank is contributing big loans, Bush has a stronger argument for limiting the U.S. contribution to grants, so as not to burden the new Iraqi government with additional debts.

The resolution also marks an important victory for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his long debate with hard-liners in the administration.

Powell and his allies have shown that he could, in fact, win valuable support from the United Nations without sacrificing much control over how the United States runs Iraq.

Meanwhile, the countries that opposed the United States on the war are hoping that the resolution offers the first step, if only a small one, toward a true internationalization of control over Iraq.

They did not win a firm timetable for elections and a final transfer of real power, as they had wanted. Nor was the United Nations given as large a political role as they had sought, although Secretary-General Kofi Annan will contribute to the creation of an Iraqi constitution.

Even so, countries such as France, Germany and Russia want the reconstruction effort to succeed.

"Nobody, especially the Europeans, can be interested in seeing a destabilization of Iraq and the entire Middle Eastern region," said Gunter Pleuger, Germany's ambassador to the United Nations.

These council members came to the view that they would have more influence in Iraq by supporting the resolution than opposing it.

Germany, committed to improving relations with the United States, signaled others on the council that it was reluctant to again oppose a Washington-sponsored resolution, diplomats said.

The French were reluctant to be isolated -- especially with the Chinese, and then the Russians, pushing to unify the council behind the proposal.

Moreover, members were worried that a continuation of the yearlong battle over Iraq was taking its toll on the council itself.

In their view, the continuing hostility of the United States was "threatening to destroy the function of the United Nations," said one U.N. official.

Diplomats understood that Bush still enjoys strong domestic support for his approach and intended to continue down the same path no matter what they did.

They reasoned that it was better to support this resolution and argue later for more changes.

"You know, there will be many resolutions," Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's ambassador, said after the vote.

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