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Bush administration launches new bid for U.N. aid in Iraq

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration has launched a new bid at the United Nations to boost international reconstruction aid and peacekeeping troops for Iraq.

The United States over the weekend circulated to the U.N. Security Council's 15 members a new draft resolution that would give the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council until Dec. 15 to develop a timetable for writing a new constitution and holding elections.

But the resolution stopped short of setting a date for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and did not meet other countries' demand that the United Nations be given a central role in developing a new constitution or organizing polls.

The text of the draft resolution, the third put forward by the United States since August, was posted Monday on the Web site of Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency. Britain and Spain were expected to co-sponsor the resolution.

U.S. officials confirmed the contents of the draft resolution, but declined to release a copy. They said the document could be formally introduced as early as Tuesday.

The draft represents a fresh attempt by the Bush administration to satisfy the concerns of France, Russia, China and other countries that have held up Security Council approval of a resolution on a peacekeeping force and reconstruction assistance to Iraq.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell held telephone consultations with the foreign ministers of about half the 15 U.N. Security Council members in an effort to drum up support for the draft resolution.

Chinese, French and Russian officials said that while the new draft resolution was an improvement over earlier versions, it didn't contain a clear-cut plan to end the U.S. occupation or guarantee the United Nations a prime role in the country's political rehabilitation. The three countries are permanent members of the Security Council and have veto power.

Unless further changes are made, "it will be very difficult to reach a consensus stand on these issues," said Sergei Trepelkoz, a spokesman for the Russian mission to the United Nations.

"It's better wording, but the same approach," said a French official, who asked not to be identified. "We think there is too little room for the U.N. There is no mention of an interim (Iraqi) government given responsibility."

The Chinese government's unusual decision to make the draft resolution public before Washington did might have been a move to nudge the United States and its critics toward a faster resolution of their differences.

China wants Iraqi sovereignty restored as soon as possible, a leading role for the United Nations, better security and a more transparent economic reconstruction process—"not one or a few countries having a monopoly on it," said a spokesman for the Chinese U.N. mission, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"China expects the relevant parties to narrow their differences and reach consensus soon," the official added.

The resolution says the Iraqi Governing Council and its ministers would be "the principal bodies of the Iraqi interim administration, which will embody the sovereignty of the state of Iraq during transitional period."

A second U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new language was designed to assuage demands for a concrete date for the restoration of sovereignty.

"We cannot predict the future," he said. "We are trying to make some progress."

But Trepelkoz said, "It is not a matter of a timetable."

Russia, France and other countries are seeking the creation of a provisional Iraqi government within months, but the Bush administration insists that an orderly transfer of power will take much more time.

Countries such as Pakistan and India say that without a U.N. resolution, they cannot contribute the sizable contingents of peacekeeping troops that the Bush administration is seeking.

Twenty countries are now providing some 24,000 soldiers to help 130,000 American troops and more than 50,000 Iraqis maintain order amid guerrilla attacks by loyalists of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, Islamic extremists and criminals.

But President Bush must have many more international peacekeepers to ease a shortage of U.S. troops.

With few other counties stepping forward, Bush has been forced to mobilize thousands of U.S. National Guard and reserves for up to 18 months of active duty, an unpopular move as he faces re-election.

International donors will hold a conference in Spain later this month, and the U.S. government hopes to win significant contributions for rebuilding Iraq's crumbling infrastructure that would ease the burden on the U.S. budget.

Bush's proposal to spend $20 billion on Iraqi reconstruction, a multiyear project that could cost more than double that amount, is under fire in Congress from Democrats and Republicans concerned about a shortage of funds for domestic programs.

The new resolution, like its predecessors, authorizes the creation of a multinational peacekeeping force. It also requires a review of the force's mission no later than one year after approval of the resolution. That provision apparently was intended as an assurance that the foreign forces would leave Iraq when their job was done.


(William Douglas in Washington contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.