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Annan Will Hold Special Iraq Meeting

U.N. chief summons five envoys to discuss this weekend how to rebuild the country and reassess the way the world makes decisions about security.

September 09, 2003|Maggie Farley and Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — A day after President Bush told Americans he was seeking more international help in Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday summoned the foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members to Geneva for a Saturday meeting to decide together how to bring aid and stability to the country.

Annan, in a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, was reluctant to endorse Bush's framing of the occupation of Iraq as an international fight against terrorism. But he said that last month's attack on the U.N. compound in Iraq had shaken the international system and that it was time to reassess the way the world makes decisions about security.

"We seem no longer to agree on what the main threats are or on how to deal with them," Annan said. Alluding to frustrations that the U.N. was unable to stop the war or play a greater role in rebuilding, he added, "I also have an uneasy feeling that the system is not working as it should."

Determined that Iraqis -- and the U.N. -- not pay the price of international divisions over Iraq, Annan hopes to hammer out a plan in Geneva for rebuilding the country that would satisfy those who opposed the war as well as those who waged it. With frank talks, he said, "I think we will be able to find a solution."

The U.S. is eager for other countries to contribute more troops and money to bolster the effort to remake Iraq, but other nations want more say in all aspects of reconstruction and a greater role for the U.N.

France and Germany have led opposition to a proposed U.N. resolution being floated by the U.S. and have demanded that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq speed up the return of sovereignty to Iraqis and allow the U.N. to oversee the transition.

In his national address Sunday, Bush said Washington wanted a new U.N. resolution creating a multinational force in Iraq led by the U.S. But he did not say what political role, if any, he saw for the world body.

"Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world," he said. "Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation."

Initial reactions to Bush's speech in Paris and Berlin were cool and cautious, but the French and German ambassadors at the U.N. said they would submit detailed amendments to the proposed resolution this week. Both have said the document now leaves too much power in Washington's hands.

German officials, meanwhile, reiterated their readiness to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq and their unwillingness to send troops. In one of the few specific comments about Bush's speech, a government official said Bush had been vague on the most important issue.

"In this speech there are no concrete details," said Gernot Erler, deputy parliamentary leader of the ruling Social Democrats. "It remains completely unclear what will be the role of the United Nations in solving the difficult situation in Iraq."

France and Germany feel their political leverage has improved as violence has increased in postwar Iraq, but their position remains tricky.

Paris in particular wants to avoid the diplomatic drubbing it took this year for its antiwar stance. Envoys are opting for quiet negotiations rather than confrontational rhetoric, seeing an opportunity to push Washington into concessions.

After Sunday's address, the European media portrayed Bush as suddenly on the defensive. Newspapers cited his declining poll numbers, intensified criticism from Democratic challengers and the drumbeat of bad news from Iraq. His professed interest in working with the international community was met with doubt and derision.

"The president didn't say a single word about the missing weapons of mass destruction, which officially were the reason for the war," the center-left daily Frankfurter Rundschau said in an editorial today. "Why does this anti-proliferation war suddenly turn into a 'central front' of the war on terrorism? Bush doesn't explain it. The call for help to the international community was rather a snotty order to kindly throw the life belt."

France and others have proposed that the U.S.-led coalition hand over power to the U.N., but Annan emphasized that he would like to see political power returned to Iraqis, under temporary U.N. supervision if needed.

While refraining from spelling out what the U.N.'s role should be, Annan said the organization could play a major political role in Iraq, the way it led the establishment of new governments in Afghanistan, Serbia and Montenegro's Kosovo province and East Timor. "The day that Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly," Annan said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell rejected the idea of the U.N. taking the lead in a political transition, but offered it a supporting part in helping the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council decide on a timetable for regaining sovereignty.

"I think the U.N. should play a role, but should it play the only role?" he said. "No, that I couldn't agree to, because I don't think it's in a position to do so."

As for fighting terrorism, it is important, Annan acknowledged, but said the U.N. should be focused on fighting such scourges as poverty and disease, including AIDS.

Those "soft threats," he said, often beget harder ones, and by dealing with them, "you may be able to make the world a safer place."

*

Farley reported from the United Nations and Rotella from Paris. Christian Retzlaff in The Times' Berlin Bureau contributed to this report.

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