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U.S. Finds Humility, Compromise Go Long Way With G-8

June 09, 2004|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writer

SAVANNAH, Ga. — President Bush traveled to this week's Group of 8 summit of industrialized nations, searching for commitments of help in Iraq and for partners in his efforts to promote democratic reform in the Middle East.

The president appears to be getting his wishes -- thanks to changing circumstances and the Bush administration's recent willingness to compromise.

Some of the nations that harshly criticized the decision to go to war now say they have little choice but to help the U.S. succeed in Iraq. Diplomats from these nations say they are lending their support because the security of the world is at stake.

U.S. success in Iraq, said a French diplomat, "is important for President Bush, for obvious reasons. But it is now also important for the security of the world. Everybody now realizes that we have no choice but to find ways to make Iraq stable and, if possible, democratic."

The U.S. received two much-needed boosts coming into this summit: the naming of Iraq's interim government and Tuesday's unanimous U.N. Security Council vote endorsing the new government. The resolution makes it easier for critics of the war to back Iraqi reconstruction.

Both accomplishments came only after the U.S. made significant compromises. The U.S. turned to the United Nations, a body it sidelined during the debate over plans to invade Iraq, to help put together the interim government. The appointments also reflected U.S. concessions to members of the Iraqi Governing Council, which has been dissolved.

To obtain the Security Council resolution, the U.S. bowed to demands from the French, Germans, Russians and others that it give the Iraqis more authority than the administration had originally proposed.

France, Germany and Russia still insist that they will send no troops to Iraq. But the French say they are willing to train Iraqi troops and police, to help build an Iraqi justice system and to assist in other, unspecified ways. The Germans say they are looking for ways to offer assistance. And the Bush administration still hopes to win troops from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a summit of the defense alliance later this month.

"The United States will be looking for signs that support for the Security Council resolution was not just symbolic," said a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

NATO countries might agree to send troops if they feared that Iraq could implode in civil war and that Islamic militancy was gaining strength.

The Bush administration has faced criticism from allies and enemies for its perceived arrogance. But if there is a watchword for the administration at this summit, it is "humility," a word that came up repeatedly at a pre-summit session on Capitol Hill.

"When it comes to discussing reform, being humble and having humility is an important part of the message that we need to convey," Alan P. Larson, undersecretary of State for economic, business and agricultural affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We need to be able to convey that we believe that the work of building free, democratic, open societies is never done, that we don't believe that we've achieved perfection."

Larson was referring to the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative for democratic reforms. But a senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said humility extends to the U.S. experience in Iraq.

"In many ways," the official said, "the U.S. has been humbled by the Iraqi experience. We've lost a lot of soldiers. We've seen our institutions that we've cherished sullied. We've seen adversity that, frankly, we didn't expect -- and that experience is humbling."

Diplomats said the U.S. showed humility in pre-summit negotiations. "And with humility, perhaps, comes the beginning of wisdom," the French diplomat said dryly.

Most notable, diplomats said, was the way the U.S. reworked its proposal for pushing democratic reforms in the Middle East after an early draft, leaked to the Arab press, outraged the region's leaders, who regarded it as a thinly veiled attempt to impose an American diktat.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, responded by traveling to the region to consult with Arab leaders, and by holding intensive discussions with skeptical allies.

In its final version, the initiative is expected to establish a forum for bringing together G-8 members with regional governments on a regular basis to discuss reform efforts, establish a micro-finance initiative for small entrepreneurs in the Middle East and offer training for teachers, businesspeople and vocational students. The plan emphasizes, in its preamble, that it is the result of "consultation with reform leaders in the region."

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