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White House to Offer U.N. a Role in Iraq

Times Staff Writers

The Bush administration decided Tuesday to submit a resolution giving the U.N. a more prominent role in security operations in Iraq and in the nation’s political transition and economic reconstruction, U.S. officials said.

The strategy marks a significant shift and comes amid the mounting casualties and increasing costs of operations in Iraq. By giving the United Nations more of a say, the United States hopes to solicit more troops and money to help stabilize the country and facilitate reconstruction and the hand-over of power.

In a meeting Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, President Bush agreed to language in a draft resolution that the United States will begin circulating at the Security Council today, the officials said.

The new U.S. diplomatic effort at the world body follows a year of tension with the international community on Iraq and comes less than six months after Washington was forced to withdraw a resolution seeking international approval for war and instead form its own coalition to oust Saddam Hussein.

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It also comes as some Democratic presidential candidates and other politicians have raised questions about U.S. policy in Iraq.

The goal is to emphasize the joint U.N. and U.S. roles and responsibilities in Iraq in ways that will end a virtual diplomatic boycott by key countries -- from France and Germany to India and Pakistan -- when it comes to providing troops, funds and expertise, U.S. officials said.

To avoid the rancor and retributions of past negotiations, U.S. officials hope to engage in behind-the-scenes diplomacy at the United Nations and in Powell’s contacts with his counterparts over the next two weeks, possibly with a vote this month when the U.N. General Assembly opens in New York.

The most immediate need in Iraq is additional troop deployments to bolster the nearly 170,000 soldiers from the United States, Britain and other nations. U.S. officials believe a new U.N. resolution would convince two key Muslim countries, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as India, to provide troops.

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The United States is particularly interested in troops from Muslim countries, both to help in sensitive areas associated with Islam and in conferring legitimacy on the mission by making it appear less foreign to Iraqis, U.S. officials say.

To win over reluctant allies, the pivotal U.S. compromise, floated last week by the State Department, is to create a multinational force under a U.N. flag but not under absolute U.N. control. The troops would not wear the light blue helmets or berets of U.N. forces in other global hotspots.

Administration officials expressed confidence that they could win support for the draft. “We’re not getting into vote counting, but we think we have a good draft that we hope generates support among Security Council members,” an administration official said Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, during a visit to Italy, suggested that Moscow could support a U.N.-sponsored force under a unified command. “Regarding the possibility of participation of international forces in Iraq under U.S. command, we don’t see anything wrong with this,” he said.

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The draft resolution has four basic areas, according to officials at the State Department, where the draft originated. They include:

* Reaffirming the “vital role” of the United Nations in Iraq.

* Mandating joint efforts by the U.N. and the U.S.-led coalition to support the Iraqi political process and the transition to a democratically elected government.

* Calling for troop contributions by other countries within a U.N. framework, with a single, unified command led by the United States.

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* Accelerating efforts at reconstruction at conferences of donor nations and others this fall.

Bush directed Powell to pursue the U.S.-proposed draft resolution at the United Nations based on these general guidelines, with some leeway for shifts in language to accommodate the concerns of other members of the Security Council, most notably France, Russia and Germany, U.S. officials said. All three of those countries were outspoken in opposing the war.

In other language designed to accommodate reluctant Security Council members, the proposed U.N. resolution stresses the need to expedite the political transition -- a means of emphasizing that a reconfigured multinational force would not be used to prop up the U.S.- and British-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority but to help stabilize the situation so Iraqis could assume more control, American officials said.

“Iraqis have to be more in charge of the transition,” a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

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Since last month’s bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, there has been intense discussion in the New York office of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about what the U.N. role in Iraq should be. On Tuesday, only 50 of the world body’s 300 international staff members previously in Baghdad remained in the Iraqi capital while top officials reassessed their mission in the country.

Annan has stressed that the first priority is to establish security, and he has suggested a U.N.-authorized “coalition of the willing” under a U.S. command to do it. Once conditions are stable enough to resume humanitarian and political work, the U.N. would seek to expand its reach in Iraq.

“We should search for a natural role for the U.N.,” the world body’s assistant secretary general for political affairs, Danilo Turk, said Tuesday. “We can find a role in organizing elections, we can be helpful in expediting a constitution.”

But Turk emphasized that the world body -- and the U.S.-led occupation administration -- should not lose sight of the ultimate goal: allowing Iraqis to reclaim control over their nation. “The U.N. is not there to replace the Iraqis,” he said. “The U.N. is there to assist them.”

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Meanwhile, the European Commission today will hold a meeting of the “core group” of international donors in Brussels to assemble the initial assessments for the reconstruction of Iraq, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

The meeting is part of preparation for an international conference of donors scheduled for Madrid on Oct. 23-24.

Boucher said the donor meetings are to galvanize the international community to give “substantial amounts, to come forward with amounts that they might not otherwise give,” and to coordinate contributions so as to align them with the Iraqis’ needs.

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Wright reported from Washington and Farley from the United Nations.


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