A defrost in US-UN relations on Iraq?

Key UN meeting Tuesday will help define outlines of global involvement in rebuilding.

The United States and the United Nations have been inching back toward each other since their falling out over the war in Iraq. Tuesday, a Security Council meeting set to take up postwar Iraq will test how quick - and how extensive - the making up will be.

In receiving their first report from Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative to Iraq, as well as a three-person delegation from the recently named Iraqi Governing Council, Security Council members are likely to give hints on several topics of keen interest to the US. One such topic is the openness of other countries to providing both personnel and financial assistance for Iraq's reconstruction.

Both the US and UN members have an interest in seeing Iraq's occupation and reconstruction broadened beyond the US and Britain. But obstacles are expected to arise where countries' interests are still diverging.

The US - paying about $1 billion a week for an occupation it thought would be less costly and require fewer soldiers - wants foreign troops to help out and their governments to foot some of the bill. But other countries want more of a UN mandate over any operations they would join - a prospect that leaves some Bush policymakers cold.

"The meeting is seen as a step towards getting beyond the disagreements over Iraq, and if the delegation is allowed, it will be the first time Iraqis speak to the Security Council since the war, and that could have tremendous impact," says a UN official close to Council operations. "But no one is saying that as a result, harmony will bloom and things will move quickly."

That was echoed by one US official in New York who says, "I doubt we'll be having any moves towards anything as formal as [a new UN resolution broadening the UN's mandate in Iraq] within the near future."

Recommended recognition

What could happen short of another resolution is Security Council endorsement of Iraq's new 25-member Governing Council as the framework for a future, post-occupation Iraqi government. The Governing Council was named by the occupying countries, but in a new report, Mr. Annan recommends Security Council recognition of the appointed body as a "representative partner" with which the international community can work.

Annan's endorsement in effect says the Governing Council is the "interim government" the UN body's last resolution on Iraq urged the occupying powers to create. This is Annan's way of suggesting to the Security Council that the US is being responsive to international interests in Iraq, some officials at the UN say, and that international cooperation on Iraq should increase.

The UN Security Council will hear Tuesday from Annan's special representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and is set to receive the three members of the Governing Council. That delegation includes Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a favorite of the Pentagon. The other two delegates are Adnan Pachachi, a former ambassador to the UN, and Akila al-Hashimi, a woman and diplomat.

Mr. Chalabi's presence in the delegation could complicate an endorsement of the Governing Council, some analysts say, since some countries worry that an endorsement would be tantamount to encouraging eventual election of a pro-US government in Iraq.

The US continues to believe that the Security Council's postwar resolution on Iraq gives countries the cover of UN endorsement they say they need to become more involved. But the fresh talk from Bush administration officials on working with the UN to find ways to increase its stake in Iraq suggests the US is warming to the idea that much more international participation will be necessary.

'The India effect'

Here at the UN, officials refer to "the India effect" - the deep impact on the US from India's refusal to place troops in Iraq without more international cover.

"It came as a bit of a shock, and did more than some other countries' reluctance to convince the US there might have to be some more explicit blessing from the UN," says Edward Luck, an expert on the UN at Columbia University in New York.

India has warming relations with the US, and has traditionally participated in peacekeeping missions, so its "no" was an important signal to Washington on its call to other developing countries to provide troops, Mr. Luck says - especially since such countries make significant contributions to peacekeeping operations.

Other UN officials close to Annan say the UN head assured President Bush in a meeting last week that the US accepting a broader international role in Iraq shouldn't be interpreted by anyone as a loss of face.

But with the US reluctant to give up too much control to a body that refused to go along with the war, and with some Security Council members "still feeling like they were run over by a political bulldozer" in the prewar debate, caution is likely to rule the UN's Iraq discussion. "Both sides want assurances this can become more multilateral," says Luck, "but given what happened just a few months ago over Iraq, I'd say everybody will initially just be testing the waters."

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