Europe balks at Iraq bailout

The US-backed UN resolution seeking more troops faces a wall of resistance from Europe.

As France and the United States dig in on opposite sides of the central question hanging over Iraq's future - who should control the country - Washington stands almost no chance of winning broad European support for its new UN Security Council resolution, analysts and officials here say.

America's suggestion that UN members should send troops to Iraq and that the world body could do more there, clearly offers outsiders only a supporting role. "The lead role has to be played by the United States," US Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted on NBC Sunday. "We have governing responsibility."

That clashes directly with European opinion. "There is a deep conviction in Europe that if you keep a dominant American role in Iraq, the stabilization effort will not work ... because of the constant flavor of an occupation force," says Christoph Betram, head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "A dominant role for the UN is the essential condition for getting things right in Iraq."

It is hard to see how even the intense backroom horse-trading expected over the next ten days can bridge that chasm of principle. "The Americans are not going to let go of Paul Bremer's primacy, so that essentially makes it impossible for Europeans to join in," says Francois Heisbourg, director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris, referring to the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority that runs Iraq.

But France, along with the other permanent Security Council members which opposed the war - Russia and China - are unlikely to veto the US resolution, observers here say. Anxious not to repeat the bruising diplomatic battle that preceded the war, they would probably abstain.

That would give Washington its resolution, but without the wide international endorsement that potential but nervous troop donors such as India are seeking before risking their troops' lives. Nor would such a resolution encourage skeptical European nations to contribute financially to Iraq's reconstruction, or to send experts to help train policemen, judges, and the other pillars of a safe society.

Behind the disagreement pitting Washington against Paris and Berlin today lies the same divergence of views over America's place in the world that set President Bush against some of his closest European allies before the war.

The fate of the UN resolution, "depends partly on the Europeans, but also on the neo-conservatives in America" occupying important posts in the Pentagon and the White House, says Georges LeGuelte, head of research at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

"So long as they defend the idea that the US is all-powerful and can impose its will by all means, including military, so long as they are not ready to give up the idea that Iraq is their terrain, we will get nowhere," he argues.

In Russia, which opposed the war, some Kremlin advisers are seeing President Bush's appeal to the United Nations as tacit acknowledgment that Washington needs help, and a good opportunity to curry favor with the US.

"Russia is ripe for a change of position on Iraq" says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies, a semi-official foreign policy think tank. "Putin feels disappointed with France and Germany's tough position, and believes that Russia has gained nothing by lining up with them."

Though few in Western Europe expect the US administration to suddenly embrace multilateralism, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made it plain last week they did not think the US draft resolution went far enough towards giving the United Nations a real role in Iraqi affairs.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in an interview published Friday by the daily Le Figaro that the resolution's main shortcoming lay in not handing over power to Iraqi authorities quickly enough.

"The Security Council should decide to restore sovereignty to the Iraqis in a very short time," Mr. de Villepin said. "It should be a matter of months."

That is far faster than the timetable envisaged by the United States, which is proposing that the Iraqi Governing Council plan a constitution before preparations are made for elections, late next year at the earliest.

It is not entirely clear exactly what France and Germany are proposing, says Mr. LeGuelte. "They agree that the US should not be in control, but it is harder to say what should come in place of that," he suggests.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer added to the confusion Saturday, telling reporters that "we would like to have a transition to Iraqi authority as quickly as possible and a gradual establishment of Iraqi sovereignty in order to stabilize the country," a turn of phrase which left a timetable uncertain.

On behalf of France, Villepin said his government was taking "an open and constructive" approach to the US initiative.

"France is effectively saying "no, but," says Dominique Moisi, a prominent commentator at the International Foundation for International Relations in Paris. "Paris is leaving a lot of doors open, because the government knows that a defeat for America in Iraq would be a defeat for the West as a whole."

"In Europe we are all convinced that something has to be done," adds Dr. Betram. "We all realize that there is a major strategic challenge to all of us. The question is, can it be met the way the Americans want to meet it?"

Fred Weir in Moscow contributed to this report.

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