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Europe

Bush, Blair to Weigh Postwar Administration of Iraq

When it came to war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood resolutely by the side of U.S. President George W. Bush. But when it comes to peace, Blair has a different view of the future.

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Time for talks: British Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) and President George W. Bush are meeting Monday in Northern Ireland.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday left Washington for Northern Ireland, where he was to meet his chief ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an effort to bridge transatlantic differences over the United Nation's role in postwar Iraq.

U.S. officials have ruled out a key political mission for the U.N., saying Washington and its allies earned that right by giving "life and blood" on the battlefield. Blair wants the United Nations to play a stronger role in the postwar transition than Bush envisages, an option favored by three leading European opponents of the war -- France, Germany and Russia.

Bush and Blair are expected to focus on the issue of when they should declare a new Iraqi government, a move that could come even before President Saddam Hussein is toppled or the fighting stops.

U.S. presses for interim authority

Anticipating impending victory, U.S. officials want to set up an Iraqi interim authority quickly to deflect criticism that the United States would be in sole control of postwar Iraq.

"I think the right goal is to move as quickly as we can ... to a government that is, if I could paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, of the Iraqis, by the Iraqis, for the Iraqis," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on Sunday.

U.S. officials oppose the idea of the United Nations supervising and running an interim government in Iraq as it did in places like Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. "It's not a model we want to follow, of a sort of permanent international administration," Wolfowitz said.

The Bush-Blair meeting at Hillsborough Castle south of Belfast will be the third time the two men have convened a war council in the past month. The venue also is designed to give Blair's efforts to resuscitate the Northern Ireland peace process a symbolic U.S. boost. Bush will meet Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and hold brief talks with Northern Ireland leaders before returning to Washington on Tuesday afternoon.

Leaders also will address Palestinian conflict

The two leaders will also tackle the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to mollify Arab anger over the war in Iraq. Blair has been pressing for the release of the Middle East peace plan known as the "road map," which would pave the way for a Palestinian state.

But U.S. officials said Iraq and the postwar administration of Iraq would dominate the talks. Bush's plan for rebuilding the country calls for a short-term U.S. civil administrator and an interim authority of Iraqis now living in the country as well as prominent exiles who would lead eventually to a permanent elected government. The recently established U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, a Pentagon-based agency headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, plans to install U.S. civilian advisers at the top of Iraqi ministries and agencies.

Rice discusses attack on Russians

While Bush focuses on the long-term plan, his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had to address a pressing short-term problem on Monday. She traveled to Moscow to hold hastily arranged talks Monday with Russian foreign and defense officials after five Russian diplomats were hit as their convoy fled the war in Iraq.

A U.S. official said Rice had "good discussions" with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the head of Russia's security council Sergei Rushailo. But in what appeared as a diplomatic snub, Rice did not meet Russian President Vladimir Putin even though she was admitted into the Kremlin. U.S. officials later said that a Rice-Putin meeting had never been on the agenda.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials refused to specify whether they thought the diplomats' and journalists' envoy was attacked by U.S. rather than Iraqi troops.

"We have not received any official explanation from the either the Iraqis or the Americans," ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement.

The Rice meetings come at a tense time for U.S.-Russia relations, which have been strained by the Iraqi war, which Moscow has furiously opposed. The U.S. government, meanwhile, recently accused Russian companies of selling hardware that scrambles global positioning satellite scramblers that interfere with its precision bombs and night vision goggles to the Iraqis.

But the most straining development came on Sunday. The Russian government had had a skeleton staff of 26 diplomats in Baghdad. It was in the process of reducing it to 12 in the face of the U.S. push into the city when the convoy came under attack. Russian officials said five Russian diplomatic staff members were wounded when a car convoy evacuating the Russian ambassador to Iraq from Baghdad to Syria came under fire.

A Russian journalist traveling with the group said U.S. forces initiated the shooting. But U.S. Central Command in Qatar said Iraqi forces controlled the area and "initial reports" indicated there were no U.S. or British troops nearby.

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