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International support to rebuild Iraq may come with a price tag

WASHINGTON—It's a question that has followed President Bush since he called for more military and financial help from the international community to rebuild Iraq: What's in it for the rest of the world to help the United States repair a country it waged war against?

"A safer world," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "A better environment for their children and grandchildren to grow up in."

But as the Bush administration works on a U.N. resolution it hopes will persuade countries to commit money and manpower to rebuilding Iraq, more than international altruism may be needed to get reluctant nations to join the coalition.

Some, such as France, want a political voice and economic say in a rebuilt Iraq. Cash-strapped nations such as Turkey want loans. Other countries are seeking sophisticated U.S. military hardware and technology. Those are the main items the United States is likely to dangle before some countries, diplomats and analysts say.

"What's going to be involved here, which happens in a lot of cases, are side deals that say `What's your price?'" said Michael Nacht, dean of the University of California-Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and a former assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control Disarmament Agency, now part of the State Department. "There's always a wish list. It could be as little as the right nod or a hello, or something more extensive."

Or more complicated. Less than a week after announcing that it now intends to work through the United Nations, the administration found itself wrangling with France, Germany and Russia—three nations that opposed military action in Iraq—over what it would take to earn their support.

Countering the administration's proposed U.N. resolution, the three countries support measures that would create an international military force under U.S. command but swiftly shift control of Iraq from U.S. hands to the United Nations and eventually to the Iraqi people.

France also wants an independent entity, such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, to ensure monitoring of how money for Iraq is used, said Jean-David Levitte, France's U.S. ambassador.

France, along with Russia, Britain, China and the United States, has veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. France insists that it doesn't view Iraq as "a pie to be shared," but others say the French-German-Russian proposals are naked attempts to wrestle power, and perhaps lucrative reconstruction contracts, away from the United States.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was cool to the proposals on Thursday. "Suggestions that somehow it can be done tomorrow, and all we have to do is get up tomorrow morning and find an Iraqi who is passing by and give him the government and say, `You're now in charge, and (civilian administrator) Ambassador (L. Paul) Bremer and the American Army are leaving,' that's not an acceptable solution," Powell said in an interview with al Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite television channel.

The French, who invested in Iraq's oil and communications industries during Saddam Hussein's rule, "have economic interests they want protected. They want significant say in any post-war political result. They want U.N. control of the politics of this," which would give France the ability to exercise veto power in the Security Council, said John Hulsman, a research fellow for European Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research organization in Washington.

"Either the U.S. will make fundamental concessions that will make the president fundamentally weaker or it will exacerbate the incredibly raw feelings in the transatlantic alliance to no gain," Hulsman said.

Powell and the foreign ministers of the other four permanent members of the Security Council are scheduled to meet this weekend in Geneva to discuss the United States' Iraq resolution.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of the diplomatic meltdown that stymied White House efforts to get a U.N. resolution authorizing war with Iraq, the administration intends to isolate France, which Washington viewed as the ringleader of the U.N. antiwar effort, a veteran State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. At the same time, the administration will focus on more cooperative countries, offering them a stake in the outcome of a rebuilt Iraq, the official said.

Russia could be a prime target, according to Esther Brimmer, deputy director of the Transatlantic Relations program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Prior to the war, Russia was one of Baghdad's strongest business partners, importing more Iraqi goods than any other country and helping develop several Iraqi oil fields. Iraq owes Russia $8 billion, much of it for weapons.

"The French position is `What type of political control will there be?' Russia is much more interested in the economic side, engagement on the contracts side," Brimmer said.

The Bush administration is also casting its net beyond the U.N. Security Council nations in hopes of attracting other countries, especially Muslim ones such as Pakistan and Turkey, to join them in Iraq. White House officials have expressed hopes that India and Turkey would provide troops for an international force.

The State Department told Congress that it intends to provide Turkey, which turned down Washington's request to use the country as a base for U.S. forces to invade Iraq from the north, with $8.5 billion in loans.

The loans, U.S. and Turkish officials said, are to help Turkey's economic reform process and to help mitigate any economic hardships resulting from the war. Turkish officials, who are weighing whether to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, insist that there is no direct relationship between the U.S. loans and their deliberation on troops.

"I don't think it (the loans) will affect Turkey one way or another," said a Turkish diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity. But he added: "Of course, it helps the overall atmosphere."

As for India, administration officials employed a hard press to persuade Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government to provide peacekeeping soldiers. Bush courted Vajpayee by phone, and Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca used an economic trip to India to meet with New Delhi officials on Iraq.

Indian officials have not said publicly what they would expect from Washington in return for troops, but some Asia analysts say the price tag would be the ability to buy sophisticated U.S. weapons.


(Warren P. Strobel contributed to this story.)


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