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Bush administration casts about for greater international support

BRUSSELS, Belgium—Faced with a stubborn guerrilla war in Iraq; resurgent Taliban, al-Qaida, warlords and drug traffickers in Afghanistan; rising costs in both and no clear way out of either, the Bush administration has begun soliciting more help from its European allies and the United Nations.

American officials said Thursday that the United Nations is likely to pass a new resolution on peacekeeping and security arrangements in Iraq before the end of June, when the U.S.-led civil administration is to return power to an interim Iraqi government.

In an interview with ZDF German television, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he thought the Security Council would approve a new Iraq resolution "as we move closer to the first of July," the date sovereignty is scheduled to revert to Iraqi control.

Powell said he planned to take up the issue during an informal summit Friday with other NATO foreign ministers.

"With respect to what role NATO might play in Iraq, that remains to be seen," Powell said. "We will certainly be discussing it. ..."

The NATO ministers are expected to discuss ways to improve security assistance to Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, including the possibility of sending more troops.

In Berlin this week, more than 50 countries pledged $8.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the next three years, far short of the nearly $28 billion Karzai has said his country needs over the next seven years to recover from more than two decades of war and repression.

The United States pledged $2.2 billion to be spent next year, and aides said Powell had indicated that the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan for the long haul.

Stronger commitments to Afghanistan from NATO countries could be a model for expanded international cooperation in Iraq, a State Department official said.

Powell's comments appeared to be the clearest signal to date that the Bush administration may be willing to share some control of security and reconstruction efforts in Iraq in exchange for more international help.

U.S. officials have said they would welcome additional allies in Iraq, but so far they've been unwilling to seek the new U.N. resolution that many countries, including some key allies, have said is necessary to win their support.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Powell had been discussing a new U.N. resolution with NATO allies, but that no decision had been reached.

The Bush administration has been sharply divided on the issue, with Powell pushing for a broader, U.N.-backed international coalition to topple Saddam Hussein and rebuild Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney and top civilian aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the main proponents of the war in Iraq, have fought to minimize the United Nations' role in the war and in postwar Iraq.

However, as the November U.S. presidential election draws closer, the administration is still confronting a costly insurgency that's taken the lives of nearly 600 U.S. soldiers and civilian personnel and questions about the wisdom of its policy in Iraq.

A larger international commitment could reduce the number of American troops and casualties in Iraq and undercut the belief, common among Iraqis, that the United States invaded their country to seize its vast oil reserves or wage war on Islam.

A new U.N. resolution might authorize a multinational security force that would help provide protection for the interim Iraqi government and for U.N. workers who are helping to prepare the country for elections, according to U.S. officials and diplomats in New York. The new force wouldn't take over primary security duties from American troops, they said.

Preliminary talks on the resolution have taken place, but a resolution isn't even in draft stage.

Other key questions remain: How much control over Iraq is the Bush administration prepared to surrender? And how could a broader international presence be achieved when U.S. officials still haven't worked out an agreement governing the coalition forces after Iraqis retake control?

The NATO summit, the first since seven East European nations joined it earlier this week, comes as the alliance is under increasing pressure to extend the presence of a 6,500-strong Afghanistan peacekeeping force beyond Kabul, the capital. Expanding the force would strengthen Karzai's rule, which remains weak and split by personal and ethnic rivalries.

Warlords rule much of the country; opium production, though outlawed last year, has skyrocketed; and the hard-line Taliban movement, which the United States ousted from power when it refused to give up terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks, has resurged in the south and east.

Karzai made an impassioned plea to donors Wednesday to help his government curb drugs and disarm Afghanistan's estimated 100,000 militiamen, both of which are key to gutting the power of regional warlords.

Afghanistan signed a pact in Berlin with six of its neighbors to reduce the flow of opium through their territories. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the key ingredient in heroin. It provides 75 percent of the world's supply.

Powell said Thursday that the United States was committed to supporting the Afghan government in both efforts. In a closed-door session, he said the United States would give Afghanistan $123 million this year to fight drug trafficking, and called on other countries to help fight Afghanistan's opium trade and curb the warlords' power.

"The warlords have been given a clear choice: Reform your ways and work toward the building of a unified, democratic Afghanistan or get left behind," he said. "There is no place in the new Afghanistan for private armies or sectarian violence."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.