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UN: No Breakthroughs Apparent On Iraq, Despite Bush Appeal In Assembly

  • Robert McMahon

The first day of high-level discussions at the annual UN General Assembly debate yielded no signs of a common approach on Iraq's political transition. The U.S. and French presidents -- chief rhetorical opponents on the Iraq war -- held cordial but inconclusive talks. U.S. President George W. Bush stressed the need for an orderly transfer of power, while French President Jacques Chirac warned that delays could weaken the legitimacy of the effort.

United Nations, 24 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has returned to the world's main diplomatic stage to appeal for support in Iraq, calling it the central front in the war on terror and a future source of stability in the Middle East.

But there were no immediate signs that UN Security Council powers had narrowed differences on a resolution that would attract more international support for Iraq.

In his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Bush defended the U.S.-led campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, saying it has made the world safer. It was now time, Bush said, for all states to come to Iraq's aid.

Bush called on nations to join a U.S. effort that marked its largest reconstruction program in half a century.

"I proposed to Congress that the United States provide additional funding for our work in Iraq -- the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan. Having helped to liberate Iraq, we will honor our pledges to Iraq, and by helping the Iraqi people build a stable and peaceful country, we will make our own countries more secure," Bush said.

Bush stressed that Washington seeks an "orderly and democratic process" for returning self-rule to Iraq, which he said could not be rushed.

But French President Jacques Chirac, who led the diplomatic campaign against the Iraq war, repeated his concern that Iraqis be assured of a swift restoration of their sovereignty. He told the General Assembly there should be a "realistic" timetable on a handover of power but that the United Nations needs a prominent role to legitimize the process.

Bush said Security Council discussions are focusing on an expanded UN role. He mentioned only assistance on political reforms, which is covered in existing resolutions.

The two presidents later held bilateral talks in which they failed to resolve differences.

Bush stressed the U.S. concern for an orderly transfer of power in a country where 140,000 U.S. troops are deployed and billions of dollars in aid are committed. Chirac told reporters afterward he expressed concern about the risks of an extended occupation of Iraq.

"The situation is such that it is generally very difficult for the Iraqis, who belong to an old people, an old culture, an old history, to accept a situation of occupation. Thus the situation could deteriorate more and more."

Chirac said there was need for the international community to express a clear will in transferring sovereignty.

"Will it take three months, six months, nine months? I can't tell you exactly how long, but we have to take a decision today."

The French president downplayed speculation the two sides were in need of rapprochement. He said the two states share a desire to see a peaceful, democratic Iraq, adding: "we very much want the Americans to succeed."

But Chirac, along with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, challenged the U.S. doctrine calling for pre-emptive strikes in the face of threats to national security. Bush used this type of reasoning to justify the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Chirac said, however, it is the role of the Security Council to set the bounds for the use of force.

Annan expressed alarm at the U.S. pre-emption doctrine. He said that if widely applied, such a doctrine could spread the lawless use of force in the world. He called on the Security Council to discuss how to mount collective action against new kinds of threats, such as terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction.

"The [UN Security] Council needs to consider how it will deal with the possibility that individual states may use force pre-emptively against perceived threats. Its members may need to begin a discussion on the criteria for an early authorization of coercive measures to address certain types of threats," Annan said.

In Iraq, the Bush administration has called on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to prepare a timetable for a transfer of power to Iraqis. But council leaders have asked for partial control of the important Finance and Security ministries, which U.S. officials have refused.

A senior member of Iraq's Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, told RFE/RL it will take time before Iraqi authorities are able to assume total control of their country. But he suggested a formal handover of sovereignty would be helpful in the short term.

"A sovereign government can agree with other governments for military assistance, for financial assistance, for economic help. So sovereignty could be given now and the transfer of powers could be gradual. The transfer of powers to the Iraqi government [will come] when we are ready," Pachachi said.

The Iraqi council has become increasingly accepted as the main representative body of Iraqis. Council members occupied the country's seat in the General Assembly yesterday and current leader Ahmad Chalabi will address the assembly next week.

Other diplomats at the United Nations also pointed to the council deliberations as the key to securing further aid for Iraq. The United States is seeking a formal council mandate for the coalition force in Iraq and is hoping for more help in peacekeeping and reconstruction aid.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham, whose country has pledged $200 million so far for reconstruction, told reporters the size of the UN role is key to unlocking more aid.

"Clearly there remains the discussion about just how large the United Nations envelope or the resolution adopted by the Security Council -- which is still being debated -- how large that has to be to attract international support," Graham said.

Bush will continue a series of key sideline meetings today. He meets German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, another opponent of the Iraq war, for their first substantial talks in many months, as well as the leaders of India and Pakistan.