UN council unanimous - a win for Bush

Resolution on Iraq boosts president, but won't quickly translate into foreign help.

In an important symbolic victory, the US Thursday won a new United Nations resolution that places an international stamp on America's occupation of Iraq.

Iraq will remain under American military and political control until a new government is elected - perhaps at the end of next year.

But the unanimous Security Council vote in favor of the new resolution marks a dramatic diplomatic advance for the US and in particular for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had keenly wanted broader international support for the mammoth American project in Iraq.

At the same time, the resolution is not expected to make any quick difference in terms of the additional foreign troops and international financial assistance the US wants for Iraq. With the new resolution barely budging in the direction of more international political control in Iraq, which many countries had wanted to see, few will feel compelled to step forward for what they see as an American project, most experts believe.

"The [Bush] administration didn't give away anything they didn't want to give away,," says Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official now at the Brookings Institution. "Because we didn't give much, the impact on the reality on the ground isn't going to be much."

And those countries that do join in at this point - Turkey with a pledge of troops, Japan with a pledge of $1.5 billion expected to be made to President Bush this weekend - will be doing so out of bilateral interests with the US rather for any deep commitment to Iraq, Mr. Daalder adds.

Syria, one of 10 nonpermanent members of the council, had been expected until the last minute to at least abstain, for example. But with its relations with Washington falling on rocky times, Syria was seen preferring to join the rest of the council, not stand out in opposition.

The resolution vote, which as late as Wednesday had looked like it would pass but with a number of glaring abstentions from the Council's antiwar bloc, is a boon to Mr. Powell before he heads to an international donors' conference for Iraq next week. It is also a nice addition to President Bush's diplomatic luggage as he heads to Asia this weekend.

The president can cite the vote as UN support as he meets with South Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun, whose country is considering sending a large contingent of peace-keeping troops to Iraq.

But the UN vote is also important to the president domestically.

With support among the American public for the Iraq occupation flagging, and with Congress showing signs of bipartisan balking at some aspects of the $87 billion request for Iraq next year, the new resolution at least withdraws the shadow of a divided international community largely opposed to America's efforts in Iraq.

Even as the Security Council voted Thursday morning, the US Senate was debating Bush's request for $87 billion for Iraq next year. The Senate vote was expected after press time.

What the UN vote demonstrates more than anything else is that, whether or not they opposed the war in Iraq, most countries now accept that the worst thing for both Iraq and the international community would be to formalize a deep rift over Iraq.

"While we still have reservations, and we still see a need for a clear timetable for transferring full authority to the Iraqi people, the important point here was to send a clear signal of unity within the international community," says a French diplomat. "It's an important signal to send to the Iraqi people."

It also suggests that, after it became clear the US was not budging far on shared political control, nations such as Russia, France, and Germany decided not, as Daalder says, to "look petulant."

Unlike its earlier drafts, the resolution calls for a Dec. 15 deadline for the Iraqi Governing Council to set a timetable for delivering a new constitution. Just Wednesday the US accepted inclusion of language giving a wider role to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, particularly in the constitutional process, and an expiration of the mandate for the international force led by the US once a new government is sworn in.

The end of the mandate does not mean foreign troops would have to be out by that date. "What this means is that it would then be up to the Iraqi government, working with the Security Council, to decide if any international force was to stay longer," says the French diplomat.

Still, the tortuous route to a new resolution is one measure of the world's reluctance to become involved in Iraq, especially under terms set by the US.

The US almost threw in the towel after even Mr. Annan criticized one recent draft resolution. But with public-opinion challenges at home and a coming international donors' conference in Madrid, the White House decided a resolution was still worth the trouble. Another factor: pressure from Britain and Spain, allies whose governments were suffering from proceeding with the Americans without a stronger UN mandate.

The resolution will not necessarily mean more foreign troops in Iraq . France repeated its offer to help train Iraqi police in conjunction with Germany. Pakistan wants a sign from the Iraqi people that they want more foreign troops before making a decision.

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