Bush defends barring some in Iraq bids

Nations who sacrificed should benefit, he says

December 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush defended yesterday his policy of barring France, Germany, Russia and other nations from $18.6 billion in U.S.-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects. But despite the anger the policy has aroused in foreign capitals, he said his personal envoy, James A. Baker III, would still meet with the leaders of several of those nations to ask that they forgive debts they are owed by Iraq.

Bush's argument was that only those nations that contributed militarily to the effort in Iraq should reap the benefits of the $18.6 billion that Congress approved last month for reconstruction.

"The taxpayers understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the White House. "It's very simple. Our people risk their lives. Coalition, friendly coalition folks risk their lives, and, therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that."

Administration officials acknowledged that Bush's position had enraged the very nations the administration is now seeking help from.

Baker is to leave Monday from his home in Houston for a five-day, five-nation trip. He is to see the administration's chief foreign opponents in the debate over the war with Iraq: President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Baker will also meet with two allies who supported Bush on the war: Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

Administration officials said that Baker, who in previous administrations was extraordinarily accessible to reporters, was adamant that he not be seen as undercutting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

But administration officials said Baker would be seen in foreign capitals as having more leverage with Bush than Powell. "Baker is Bush," said a senior administration official. "Other countries know that Powell doesn't win all the battles. If you deal with Baker, you know you're going to get what you need."

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