A year later at UN, Bush's new take on Iraq

Tuesday, he will ask a wary world body for troops and money for postwar phase.

A year after George W. Bush told the United Nations to take on Iraq or face irrelevance, the president returns to the UN General Assembly in New York this week as Iraq's occupier - yet humbled by the experience.

In a speech to be delivered Tuesday, Mr. Bush will again seek action by the international community, but this time he will be asking for support in delivering a secure peace rather than in preparing for war. It is a task the UN is much better suited to take on, and one the United States, by virtue of the president's request, is acknowledging it cannot succeed at alone.

Both in his speech and in a number of tête-à-têtes that he and Secretary of State Colin Powell will have with world leaders, Bush is expected to press for assistance - in terms of troops and money - in Iraq.

The crux of the debate still separating the US from key members of the international community is more the issue of control over Iraq's political affairs rather than over military control. Virtually no one disputes that the US, as the occupying force and largest military presence in Iraq, should retain command of any UN- sanctioned forces sent in.

The question, instead, comes down to whether Iraq administrator Paul Bremer - named by Bush and reporting to the Pentagon - should retain full control of Iraq's political affairs. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for one, told US reporters over the weekend that the UN's role in Iraq must be more than "decoration."

Current White House stance

The Bush administration appears to be still undecided on how much of a role it might allow the UN. Yet the president's effort at the UN - with the end goal being a new resolution that supports more international involvement in Iraq - suggests new understanding on the part of the administration.

"Most people in the Bush administration have no experience with the new UN," says Nancy Soderberg, a former US ambassador to the UN in the Clinton administration and now vice president of the International Crisis Group in New York. Pointing to the UN's "proven essential role" in the nation-building tasks such as those the US is undertaking in Iraq, she adds, "Wrongly, they didn't realize the UN is relevant to the challenges of today."

Still, what sounds like the basis for a closer meeting of minds on Iraq does not mean an easy road ahead. Bush acknowledged as much last week when he said at Camp David that the resolution - which the administration had hoped would be approved before the president's General Assembly speech - probably won't be voted on until later this week at the earliest.

Some countries suggest the lack of clarity on what the US is willing to consider in terms of a UN role is holding things up. Key countries that are sounding more open to working with the US are "holding back a bit in terms of specifics until we see what the Americans are open to," says one European official.

"The problem is that Washington still hasn't decided how far it's willing to go on this," says Ms. Soderberg. "The rhetoric's right, but not the substance yet."

Divisions among other nations

Yet it is not as though other countries are demonstrating a united front to present before the US. At a weekend summit in Berlin, the leaders of Germany, France, and Britain agreed the "international community" is key to postwar success in Iraq, but acknowledged "differences of opinion" on how that involvement should be accomplished.

But overall, this combination - a still-scattered international position along with a general recognition of the world's stake in seeing Iraq emerge to stability - presents Bush with an opportunity, some experts say. The president "has an excellent opportunity to make his case for a pulling-together on Iraq," says Edward Luck, a foreign-policy expert at Columbia University in New York.

Mr. Luck says Bush's challenge to the UN last year to make itself count was well received - it was the subsequent "take-it-or-leave-it press for war" that was not. And he says that while "there are forces out there that don't want this thing [in Iraq] to work," the UN in general is not opposed to American leadership.

But it does want to be taken seriously, he says. The longtime analyst of UN affairs says Bush comes to the UN this year no doubt "disappointed" at the international body but also "sobered" as to the role it plays in the world.

"Because of that, I think [Bush] is coming this year with a bit more of an attitude of working with the international community," Luck says. "And if he is, I think he can expect to be met favorably."

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