Europe shifts to post-war focus

Fearing irrelevance, war's opponents now seek role in rebuilding Iraq.

At odds with the US and deeply divided among themselves, Europeans opposed to going to war with Saddam Hussein are now scrambling to play a role in shaping postwar Iraq.

For months France, Germany and Russia - key European countries on the UN Security Council - have been trying to stop President George Bush from invading Iraq, severely straining the transatlantic alliance.

Now, Europe is looking beyond the war with hopes of ensuring a role for the UN and Europe in Iraq's reconstruction - and rebuilding relations with Washington. The Europeans also hope to restore the relevance of the Security Council, which Bush has accused of failing to live up to its responsibilities.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Russia planned to address the Security Council yesterday on wartime humanitarian relief. "We will provide humanitarian aid, although we regret its necessity," EU commissioner Chris Patten said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the US and its major Eauropean ally, Britain, are drafting a UN proposal to use Iraqi oil proceeds to pay for humanitarian relief during a war, the AP reported yesterday. And Britain is working with Washington on UN resolutions to reconstruct a postwar Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, as "an important part of bringing the international community back together again."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin says that the US can win the war alone, but it needs the international community to win the peace. "We think the United Nations cannot be ignored and will be at the heart of the management of Iraq after Saddam Hussein," he told Europe 1 radio this week.

Germany's official policy, has been not to speak about the postwar scenario, since this, officials say, would be to give up on the last hope for peace. But behind the scenes the discussion is heated. German diplomats, according to a report in the weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, are weighing a major financial contribution toward rebuilding Iraq to "buy their way back into the German-American relations," the paper said. The paper cited a document prepared by Germany's UN ambassador Gunter Pleuger that suggests Berlin and other powers on the Security Council gave up trying to reach a compromise with the US, hoping instead that after the war, the US would be more willing to work with the UN. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report, but said it reflects a "snapshot" of the discussion.

One of Germany's reasons for opposing military action against Iraq has been fear that a war would destabilize the entire Middle East. Karsten Voigt, coordinator of US-German relations in the Foreign Ministry, says Germany hopes the UN will play a strong role in postwar Iraq to prevent such results. "We are very skeptical that stability in the region will develop in the way the US seems to believe," he said.

Germany's contribution to the peace effort is unclear. With 10,000 troops stationed in UN missions from Afghanistan and Kosovo to the Horn of Africa at a cost of two billion euros a year, Germany insists it cannot afford to send more troops abroad. But some government officials suggest that a contingent of 1,000 peacekeepers to Iraq is possible. More likely, though, is that Germany will send engineers, doctors, and similar assistance.

"They see this as an opportunity to improve German-American relations and to strengthen the UN," said Frank Umbach, security and foreign-policy expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

For France and Russia, who threatened to veto a UN resolution that would have sanctioned going to war, cooperation in the peace effort could be a way to limit the economic damage from opposing the US.

A report commissioned by the French Parliament and published in September 2002 put the value of French exports to Iraq since UN sanctions were eased at $3.5 billion. In 2001, France sold Iraq $650 million worth of goods - more than any other country.

Especially hard hit could be French pharmaceutical companies, who profited after a UN oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell crude oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medicines. Other key French players in Iraq include carmakers Peugeot and Renault, the telecommunications firm Alcatel, and the engineering concern Alstom. If Saddam's regime is toppled, France fears it could lose lucrative contracts.

But like the US, France is mainly interested in Iraqi oil. In the mid-'90s, the oil companies Elf and TotalFina, who have since merged into TotalFinaElf, negotiated contracts for two huge fields, Majnoon and Nahr Omar, southeast of Baghdad. The combined reserves of these fields are estimated at 20 billion barrels. The contracts were not signed because of the trade embargo, but Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein agreed to wait while France lobbied to get sanctions lifted.

The French weapons industry is believed to have sold Iraq $25 billion worth of arms since the 1980s. Industry sources say French companies still have not been paid for all of these sales, so if Mr. Hussein goes, those debts will be a write-off too.

Russia also has a great deal at stake in postwar Iraq. Before the first Gulf War, the Soviet Union was a major player in the Iraqi oil industry. Most equipment in Iraqi oil fields was of Soviet manufacture and most Iraqi specialists trained in the USSR. Russia still hopes to recuperate the approximately $7 billion that Iraq owes in Soviet-era debt. It also hopes to make good on some $40 billion in outstanding contracts for Russian supplies, engineering goods and oil-field investments that have been signed with Saddam Hussein's regime - but not valid until after the UN sanctions regime has been lifted. Russian specialists are not optimistic that a US-run post-Hussein Iraq will honor the debts or the contracts.

Nanette van der Laan in Paris, Fred Weir in Moscow, and wire services contributed to this report.

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