UNITED NATIONS—President Bush on Tuesday asked for the world's help in rebuilding Iraq. But he made no concessions to get it, and there was little indication from other leaders that they were in a hurry to grant it.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Bush was unapologetic for going to war without a U.N. endorsement. "Let us move forward," he said. "The nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid, and all nations of goodwill should step forward and provide that support."
It was clear that bitterness still lingered over Bush's Iraq policy a year after he told the U.N. that it risked irrelevancy if it failed to authorize the war. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the U.S.-led invasion for encouraging "the lawless use of force" by other nations, while France and Germany repeated their demands for more U.N. involvement.
Response to Bush's 26-minute speech was polite but unenthusiastic. The welcome for French President Jacques Chirac, who criticized U.S. policy, was far warmer.
The United States is seeking a Security Council resolution that would encourage more international aid to Iraq. But Tuesday's debate indicated little agreement on the U.S. approach.
In his speech, Bush suggested that the U.N. role be limited to helping devise a new constitution, overseeing elections and training civil servants. He rejected requests for a speedy transfer of power to the Iraqi Governing Council, an interim organization established by U.S. officials as a first step toward Iraqi sovereignty.
"This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis—neither hurried, nor delayed by the wishes of other parties," he said.
Near the back of the cavernous chamber, a delegation of Iraqis led by Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi exile who hopes to become the country's leader, clapped when Bush concluded his remarks. Iranian delegates seated next to them kept their hands on the desk or in their laps.
Other speakers vented their frustration with Bush's willingness to wage war without U.N. approval.
"The war, embarked on without Security Council approval, has undermined the multilateral system," Chirac said. "In an open world, no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules."
Bush and Chirac failed to resolve their differences in a private meeting later. Despite their disagreements, Chirac assured Bush that he would not stand in the way of a U.N. resolution endorsing Bush's views.
U.S. officials expressed confidence that they will be able to get a resolution on their terms, but one acknowledged, "We're going to have to keep working on it."
A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Bush told Chirac that quick transfer of power in Iraq "is just not in the cards."
The official also ruled out the possibility that the U.N. could take charge of Iraq's reconstruction while U.S. commanders maintain control of military operations.
U.S. officials fear that surrendering or sharing control would only contribute to the chaos in Iraq. France and other countries wary of U.S. power are eager for any change that could dilute U.S. influence. The shift would also make it easier for European companies to compete with U.S. firms for potentially lucrative contracts in Iraq.
"It's just not going to happen," the official said. "Just like we have unity of command on the military side, we're going to have to maintain unity of the direction on the reconstruction side."
Although Bush looked relaxed and confident in front of the international audience, his political standing has slipped considerably since his last U.N. visit. A year ago, 70 percent of Americans said they approved of Bush's performance in office. Now, only about half feel that way.
Polls also show strong opposition to Bush's request for an additional $87 billion to help pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Poll results released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center show that 51 percent of Americans think Bush should give up some military control in Iraq to the U.N. to get other countries to send more troops. Nearly 60 percent said they are opposed to the funding request.
In Washington, a group of former government employees who now work for think tanks, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.N. has more expertise in nation-building than the United States military and should be brought into the process.
Iraq is the sixth nation-building operation by the United States, and the administration has not learned the lessons of the past five, said James Dobbins, the former special State Department envoy who oversaw reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia.
"We should be getting better at this but we are not," he said.
Critics said Bush's unwillingness to share power in Iraq could doom the effort to get more foreign assistance.
"I think the president lost an opportunity. He came before the international community and he could have made the case for more troops, for more resources. He didn't do that," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.
Some supporters of Bush's policy also said the president's speech missed the mark. "The president didn't succeed in showing (that) the French plan didn't make much sense," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. But Biden said the U.N. "isn't ready to do anything in Iraq."
U.S. officials made it clear that Bush has no intention of backing away from his pre-emptive strike policy. Bush repeated his view that the Sept. 11 attacks drew a black-and-white line between terrorists and their supporters, and the civilized world.
"Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground. All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization," he said. "The former regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq knew these alternatives, and made their choices."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Sumana Chatterjee contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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