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Schröder Presses Case for Central U.N. Role in Postwar Iraq

Germany's chancellor is meeting with the leaders of France and Russia to discuss their stance on postwar Iraq. But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the U.N. Security Council's role could be limited.

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Rebuilding this mess is going to take a lot of cash.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has made up his mind. Either the United Nations will be a guiding force in the reconstruction of Iraq or Germany will not participate.

The chancellor who waged a diplomatic campaign to stop the war from being launched laid out his position with the private television network RTL on Thursday night.

"Germany can and will join the reconstruction effort if it is conducted under the auspices of the United Nations," Schröder said.

The chancellor made the comments a day before he travels to St. Petersburg, Russia, to discuss the question with two other allies in the anti-war effort -- French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders are meeting three days after President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged at their Northern Ireland war council that the United Nations would have a "vital role" to play in the reconstruction effort.

Russian pushes U.N. role

As the St. Petersburg summit approached, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spelled out his government's position. Ivanov said the United Nations should have a "central role" in postwar Iraq. "This authority must be used to achieve a political settlement in Iraq within the shortest time possible," Ivanov said. "This is in the interests of the Iraqi people. This is in the interests of the whole region."

The debate over the role of the United Nations is shaping up to be the next point of conflict between the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq and the European nations that futilely fought the American plan in the U.N. Security Council.

Blair has also endorsed a U.N. role. But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview published on Friday by the German newspaper Die Welt that it would be wrong to assume that the war-fighting coalition would be willing to hand over total responsibility to the Security Council now that the Iraqi regime has been overthrown.

Like the world community, Americans are divided on the issue as well. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found this week that 62 percent of respondents thought the United Nations should play a significant role in post-war Iraq. It found that 31 percent did not.

The public is divided over the issue of who should have the most say in this process: 38 percent believe the United Nations should take the lead in establishing a stable government in Iraq, compared with 49 percent who either believe Washington and its allies should have the most say or reject any UN role.

U.S. seeks international support

The United Nations is one of many international organizations where officials are discussing the future of Iraq. U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow plans to use the weekend meetings of the 184-nation International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to start pulling together the resources to rebuild Iraq. The lending organizations said they were prepared to send fact-finding missions to Iraq once it was safe to do so.

Preliminary estimates on the cost of rebuilding Iraq range from $20 billion a year for the first few years to as much as $600 billion over a decade. Snow said he would seek support among the Group of Seven leading industrial powers for forgiving a part of Iraq's foreign debt, estimated to be as high as $200 billion.

Friedrich Merz

Christian Democratic opposition member Friedrich Merz

Amid the debate in Germany over the future of Iraq, a leading member of the opposition Christian Democratic Union linked Germany's participation to the reconstruction efforts to the awarding of contracts to German companies. "If we provide financial support to the reconstruction, German companies have to profit from it," Friedrich Merz (photo) told the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse. "That goes without saying."

In the television interview, Schröder said he did not understand such a demand. "I find it to be a little macabre."

Compiled with information from new agencies.

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