UNITED NATIONS – Supporters and opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq (search) endorsed a planned donors conference Tuesday to finance the reconstruction of the country through 2004.
An Iraqi delegation hand-picked by the U.S.-led coalition praised the first international conference on the country's postwar reconstruction, saying it had reconnected Iraq to the world after decades of isolation.
The daylong meeting, mostly behind closed doors, brought together representatives from 52 countries, the United Nations (search), the World Bank and the U.S.-led coalition now running Iraq to decide on reconstruction -- and an initial timetable.
Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program and host of the conference, said there was agreement that the focus of the October conference would be financing for next year focusing on short-term projects to meet immediate needs -- not ambitious longer-term reconstruction projects.
The European Union -- whose members were bitterly divided over the war -- Japan, the United States and the United Arab Emirates stepped forward as government sponsors of the conference, which is expected to be attended by foreign ministers. They will support preparations by the World Bank, U.N. agencies and the International Monetary Fund, he said.
Malloch Brown said the conference showed that nations divided over the war are "united in building as quickly as possible an Iraq which is back on its feet, politically independent, under its own government."
"I think that's the real message of today, that there was an extraordinary meeting of minds," he said.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry official Akila Al Hashimi, chosen by the 12-member Iraqi delegation as their spokeswoman, said "the decision of a lot of countries to help Iraq's reconstruction gives us an indication that really we are now with the international community ... we are part of this world."
Malloch Brown said potential donors were "very lucky" that the coalition brought the delegation to New York. But he and other senior U.N. officials stressed that the delegation was no substitute for a representative interim government, which they say is essential to help lead efforts to rebuild the country.
He said participants agreed that "for the reconstruction conference to meet its full success, there needs to be ... Iraqi political counterparts to deal with."
Al Hashimi noted that "the political and popular circles in Iraq are continuously working with the coalition to achieve as soon as possible the recovery of democratic institutions in the new Iraq."
Alan Larson, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic affairs, said the United States was "very encouraged" by Tuesday's session and other countries' acceptance of the Iraqi delegation.
With the world's second-largest oil reserves and potential revenue from other sources, the United States and other international donors are hoping that Iraq will quickly be able to finance its own reconstruction.
At a conference in Japan last year on Afghanistan, international donors pledged about $5 billion to rebuild the country. Since then, only about $2 billion has been delivered.
The October conference won't be "a permanent subsidy from the international community, but it's a strategic upfront start-up to bridge a gap," Malloch Brown said.
He said the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF will lead teams including potential donors that supported and opposed the war as well as Iraqis in determining the needs ranging from health and education to investment and trade.