Amid widespread calls for a strong U.N. role in postwar Iraq, notably from Germany, U.S. President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair endorsed a "vital role" for the U.N. when fighting ends.
Setting the course: U.S. President George W. Bush (left) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in no mood for diplomatic reruns.
Before the United States-led coalition launched its invasion of Iraq, Blair found himself caught up in what he called "endless diplomatic wrangles" over his pro-war position and the anti-war position of some European allies. On Tuesday, he let those allies know that he didn't want to experience the same dogged negotiations when leaders try to shape the future of Iraq and the role that the United Nations may play in it.
At a joint press conference with U.S. President, Bush at an 18th century castle near Belfast, Northern Ireland on Tuesday, the British Premier urged the world to avoid diplomatic wrangling over Iraq's future like the bickering that preceded the war.
Leaders pledge "vital role"
Both Bush and Blair endorsed a "vital role" for the United Nations in Iraq and called for world unity over the country when fighting ends.
London and Washington hope their agreed vision of the postwar stages in Iraq will placate France, Germany and Russia, and appease widespread international suspicion of U.S. motives in Iraq.
"We are of course agreed, as we say in our joint statement, that there will be a vital role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq," Blair told a news conference at his summit with Bush.
Bush used the same words and added that he wanted Iraq to move fast toward establishing an interim authority of Iraqis.
"We will move as quickly as possible to place governmental responsibilities under the control of an interim authority composed of Iraqis from both inside and outside the country," Bush told the news conference. "The interim authority will serve until a permanent government can be chosen by the Iraqi people."
President defines "vital role"
Pressed on what he meant by a "vital role," Bush replied: "I believe a vital role is as an agent to help people live freely.
"That means food. That means medicine. That means aid. That means a place where people can give their contributions. That means suggesting people for the interim Iraqi authority. That means being a party to the progress being made in Iraq. That's what that means," he said.
The British leader, who has stood by Bush throughout the crisis, said the "new Iraq" would be run by the Iraqi people and not by Britain, the United States or the United Nations
Germans demand role for U.N.
But it remains to be seen whether this time the British prime minister may get his wish because some of the same forces that tried to block the war are now pressing their case for a major U.N. role in the administration of postwar Iraq.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has called for the U.N. to be given a central role in the country's postwar administration, and two leading members of Schröder's party, the Social Democrats, reiterated that demand in a radio interviews on Tuesday with German public radio.
"When it is not possible to create a major role for the United Nations, the chances of creating peace in the region are much smaller," said Gernot Erler, a leading Social Democrat in the German parliament.
Erler said the United States and Britain were unqualified to lead the effort because the Iraqi people did not view them as liberators. "Therefore, someone who is considered to be neutral must be given the authority over the future organization," he said.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul
Developmental Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (photo) agreed, saying the United Nations not only should supply humanitarian aid but also should oversee the reconstruction of the country. "The people who started the war are the ones responsible for providing the financial assistance," Wieczorek-Zeul said.
Arab council backs U.N. as well
Support for the United Nations extends beyond Germany. The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council called on Monday for the United Nations to help the Iraqis reorganize their government. The council members "reaffirm that it is important for Iraqis to run all the affairs of their country," said Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, secretary-general of the loose political and economic alliance, at the end of a meeting of GCC foreign ministers.
In addition, U.N. General-Secretary Kofi Annan will begin a trip to Europe on Wednesday to push the case for the United Nations. Annan will meet with Blair on Wednesday before traveling to three countries that led the fight against the war -- France, Germany and Russia.
U.S. officials have ruled out a key political mission for the United Nations, saying Washington and its allies earned that right by giving "life and blood" on the battlefield. But Blair wants the United Nations to play a stronger role in the postwar transition than President George W. Bush envisages.