Europe Demands Role In Post-War Iraq

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, left, laughs with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, second right, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, right, prior to their luncheon in Paris, Wednesday, March 5, 2003. The three nations leading the drive against war in Iraq arranged a mini-summit ahead of Friday's U.N. Security Council meeting.
To the dismay of Washington's European allies, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted Thursday the United States — and not the United Nations — must lead Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

In fast-paced, daylong meetings with European Union and NATO foreign ministers, Powell failed to narrow differences over European demands that the United Nations be the key player in Iraq once the regime of President Saddam Hussein falls.

"The coalition has to play the leading role," Powell told reporters.

"Military commanders will be responsible for stabilizing the situation, for securing the country and the people. But that does not mean we have to shut others out. There will definitely be a United Nations role, but what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen,'' Powell said.

He sought to soften the blow by promising the Europeans that the U.S. administration will move swiftly to implement a roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, leading to an independent Palestinian state — something the Europeans have been demanding for months.

However, he gave no date for the release of the roadmap that has been drafted by the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations.

If the last few months saw a big rift open up within NATO over the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, the reconstruction effort promises to bring no quick narrowing of that gap.

``We believe the United Nations should have a central role, whether political or economic,'' said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose country has been the most outspoken opponent of the war.

``The U.N. is the only international organization that can give legitimacy'' to Iraq's reconstruction, he said.

Many European governments object to Washington's plans to install an interim administrator in Baghdad in the war's immediate aftermath. They oppose giving Britain and the United States a dominant rebuilding role for fear of rewarding them for a war they started without specific U.N. Security Council backing.

``I don't see how we could contribute to the reconstruction without the United Nations playing the key role,'' said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.

France and Germany were the key U.S. opponents at the United Nations and NATO in the months leading up to the war. For months, they held up plans to give Turkey NATO defensive support to fend off any Iraqi retaliation.

On Thursday, Powell said he was ``pleased that there was a receptive attitude'' to the American suggestion, first made last December, that NATO deploy peacekeepers in Iraq.

Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said NATO ambassadors could begin examining an alliance peacekeeping role next week.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Powell said the U.S. administration would move swiftly to implement a roadmap for a Mideast peace settlement. The main goal is the establishment of a Palestinian state.

``A roadmap is ready to be delivered'' once the new Palestinian prime minister has formed his government, he said. ``We have been waiting for a new Palestinian leadership to come forward and we are now seeing that happen.''

Attempts were also underway on the EU side to mend fences. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the EU presidency, spoke of the need to heal trans-Atlantic relations. ``It is of utmost importance to restore — I would even say reshape our trans-Atlantic relationship'' that has been badly bruised by divisions over the Iraq war.