U.N. to have role in Iraq, Nations say

But details on its part in rebuilding still debated

War In Iraq


BRUSSELS, Belgium - The United States and its European allies yesterday reached what officials on both sides said was a broad consensus that the United Nations should play a significant role in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, but remained divided over many of the details of how extensive that role should be.

After a long day of back-to-back meetings between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell with foreign ministers of 23 European countries, it was apparent that many of the differences that divided the allies over going to war against Iraq would remain as they faced the issue of Iraq's future.

Powell said that at least initially, the military coalition led by the United States and Britain "has to play the leading role in determining the way forward" but that "this is not to say that we have to shut others out and not say that we will not work in partnership with the international community and especially with the United Nations."

Sounding a somewhat different note, several European leaders said that the United Nations should play more of an organizing role as quickly as possible. The European Union has said that only some kind of an international imprimatur on the occupation can avoid continuing bitterness against the war in the Middle East.

The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, who led the drive to thwart U.N. authorization of the war last month, said that "when the time is ready, we believe that the United Nations should have a central role to play." He did say, however, that as a practical matter, its role could be phased in.

Despite these differences, U.S. and European officials proclaimed themselves pleased with the relatively harmonious atmosphere they had managed to establish, only a few weeks after U.N. discussions on Iraq had dissolved in acrimonious accusations on the eve of President Bush's decision to go to war.

Powell said he "sensed a coming together of the trans-Atlantic community to work on the rebuilding" of Iraq. And de Villepin also stressed that France would look past previous battles with Powell. "I think we should be very pragmatic," he said.

With news from the battles in Iraq spreading through NATO headquarters, there was an unusual atmosphere of drama and expectation running through what amounted to the first major international meeting to discuss the war since it began two weeks ago.

Perhaps because recent news suggested that the tide on the battlefield was turning against Saddam Hussein, there was less talk of Europeans warning about the futility of war and more focus on what should happen in the future.

The secretary-general of NATO, Lord Robertson, was asked whether his optimism about the future meant that all the past divisions had gone.

"I'm always optimistic, but I'm not stupid," he said. "Of course it's been a difficult period to go through but I believe that after Thursday's meeting we have been through the worst."

Many Europeans expressed gratitude to Powell for arranging the meeting, which they said showed that the United States would listen to them in the future on Iraq and also on the need for accelerating Middle East peace negotiations.

Many also noted the need for a postwar Iraq to involve Iraqis in the government as quickly as possible.

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