Hussein's capture may help bridge US-Europe divide

Envoy Baker seeks Iraqi debt relief from allies bitter about being barred from contracts.

The capture of Saddam Hussein adds a glow to former Secretary of State James Baker's mission to Europe this week as President Bush's special envoy to promote international cooperation on Iraq.

As Mr. Baker sets out to convince key nations that opposed the war to shoulder more of the effort to stabilize Iraq - including by forgiving some of the crushing international debt it incurred under Mr. Hussein - the theme echoing on both sides of the Atlantic is: "Seize the moment."

From British Foreign Minister Jack Straw to US Sens. Joe Lieberman (D) and John Warner (R), political leaders are calling for using the momentum gained by Hussein's detention to overcome deep international differences on Iraq.

The moment offers the best opportunity since the bitter United Nations debate over the war to truly internationalize Iraq's reconstruction and democratization, experts say. They see the possibility of bringing broader participation by Europe to Iraq, which could lead to a significant peacekeeping presence by other Muslim countries.

Yet, at the same time, they caution that much will depend on the attitude the Bush administration takes toward countries that opposed the war - and whether the "internationalist" leanings of the Republican Party wing that Baker represents hold sway.

"Baker's message to those who opposed us on the war should be, 'We got Saddam out, now we need you in,' " says Karl Inderfurth, a former US ambassador for political affairs to the United Nations. "This is a time for the work-with-others faction that Baker represents to carry the day over the go-it-aloners."

Just days ago the prospects for Baker's trip, to meet with the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and Italy, had dimmed with the release of a Pentagon directive barring nations that opposed the war from participating in contracts for Iraq's reconstruction.

While the directive emanated from policy that was well known, its timing - the very day Mr. Bush called European counterparts to ask them to receive Baker - nevertheless sent mixed signals.

It reminded the international community of what is often perceived around the world as the administration's split personality - multilateralist versus unilateralist.

"This begs the question of whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing - or whether the two are really working together," says Anthony Gooch, spokesman for the European Union in Washington.

While some observers pinned the controversy on Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz - the directive's author and a neoconservative often perceived as the chief promoter of the go-it-alone approach - others think it goes well beyond his desk.

"This typifies an administration that carries a grudge and is adamant that our allies' obstructionism is going to cost them," says Richard Murphy, a former State Department official now at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

SOME analysts theorize that the administration is being purposely ambiguous. The Pentagon policy, which decrees that countries not considered part of the "international coalition" in Iraq will be barred from sharing in $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts, stands.

Bush reiterated that decision at a press conference Monday. But the president was also generally conciliatory toward those nations who opposed the war.

"We are reaching out to them," he said.

The administration has left open the possibility of granting contracts to nations that forgive some of Iraq's global debt.

Hussein's capture does appear to be having some impact in Europe. In commenting on Iraq after the detention, French President Jacques Chirac said the way may be open to NATO involvement in Iraq - an involvement he said even the French could eventually participate in, as they do in Afghanistan.

Still, even the boost provided by Hussein's capture or Baker's known diplomatic skills may not alter the broad course of diplomatic relations.

"This administration has set a course for the use of American power that does not sit well with Europeans who don't like the implications of America's unfettered power, and it is that tension that is going to reach into the future," says John Hulsman, a US-Europe specialist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "It doesn't mean the two can't work together, but it does mean the romance is out of the relationship."

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