WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is making little headway in its new efforts to draw other nations into contributing peacekeeping troops to Iraq by having the United Nations (search) endorse the operation.
By all accounts, the U.S. insistence on retaining control of all troops in Iraq has run into other countries' demands for greater U.N. control over economic and political decisions in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
Yet, a State Department official said Thursday the administration intended to continue to seek input on a proposed resolution in which the United Nations would provide a mandate for current and additional peacekeeping troops from other countries, under U.S. command.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) spoke by telephone with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) of Britain and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (search) of Italy. U.S. diplomats at the United Nations were broaching the idea in informal discussions with other governments.
The U.S. goal is to have a resolution ready for consideration when foreign leaders gather in New York toward the end of September for the annual special session of the U.N. General Assembly, the official said, on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. proposal is that the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the 23,000 sent there by Britain and 26 other countries, and any additional forces would be given a U.N. mandate for their peacekeeping operation.
A U.S. commander would remain in charge of all troops.
Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage (search) told a group of reporters on Tuesday that one idea being explored was "a multinational force under U.N. leadership, but the American would be the U.N. commander."
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Thursday that idea was presented by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan several days ago.
"That's one of many ideas that are floating around and no decisions have been made on any of those ideas," said Buchan.
But at the State Department, deputy spokesman Philip T. Reeker indicated the process of drafting a resolution was in motion.
"We are looking at language that may offer additional encouragement to others" to contribute troops, he said.
The issue is a sensitive one within the Bush administration. The White House and Pentagon are reluctant to assign a major role to the United Nations, even though the proposal under consideration would not place it in charge of peacekeeping troops.
Still, the United Nations would sponsor or provide a mandate for peacekeeping in Iraq with the aim of inducing countries in Europe and the Arab world to add thousands of troops.
Bush vowed in a speech Tuesday that the United States would not back down in Iraq or anywhere it confronts violent Islamic extremism. Still, the steady loss of American lives at the hands of pro-Saddam Iraqis and other militants, some of whom crossed the border into Iraq, has cut into popular support for the president.
The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said Thursday in Baghdad that there was no need for more U.S. troops in the country. He blamed continuing violence on insufficient intelligence and lack of cooperation from the Iraqi people.
The issue is also a sensitive one for Arab and European leaders.
Many Arabs resented the U.S. foray into Iraq. Whatever their views of Saddam, the United States was invading an Arab country and is now staying on for an uncertain period.
Many Europeans resented the Bush administration's determination to go to war in Iraq, with or without international support. Traditionally, they are uncomfortable with an assertive United States.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for the deployment of a U.N.-run international force in Iraq, arguing that merely increasing troops under U.S. and British control would not be enough.
De Villepin, who helped block authorization of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the U.N. Security Council, also called for the establishment of a provisional government in Baghdad backed up by the United Nations.
"It does not suffice to deploy more troops," de Villepin said. "We need a real change in approach."
Pentagon officials said Thursday they had talked to more than 60 countries about contributing troops and other help in Iraq. Some want a greater U.N. role to justify deployments. Others would prefer an invitation or request from the U.S-appointed Iraqi interim governing council. Still others would like an endorsement from an Arab group.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the transformation of Iraq would be endangered if the United Nations were given "primacy" over the occupation.
But, McCain said, U.N. "blessing" and recognition of Iraq's governing council could help solicit foreign troops and reconstruction aid.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a presidential aspirant, said the administration was "feebly reaching out and floating trial balloons" about the U.N.
"What they ought to do is go to the U.N. and get the job done," he said in Durham, N.H.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said "the work being done by the Bush administration and the U.N. to continue exploring ideas and options for getting the U.N. more fully and completely engaged in Iraq should be encouraged. America needs more help and involvement from our allies in Iraq."
Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said only the United States can deal with counterterrorism. But he said other troops authorized by the United Nations could free Americans to pursue that fight.
"If what happens is you get management by committee and a low-intensity conflict or armed nation-building, we should not do it," he said.