Published September 23, 2003
UNITED NATIONS – President Bush (search) arrived at the United Nations (search) in New York Tuesday morning and prepared to address the group for the first time in a year, aiming to gain global assistance in the reconstruction of Iraq.
In advance of his speech, Bush laid out his vision of the role the organization could play in Iraq during an exclusive interview that aired Monday on Fox broadcasting network. Bush expressed hope that his plan is one that will help the Iraqis take control of their own affairs.
"I do think it would be helpful to get the United Nations in to help write a constitution. I mean, they're good at that. Or, perhaps when an election starts, they'll oversee the election," Bush said during the interview.
Bush, who is expected to tell America's allies that it's time to put aside differences over Iraq and work together on reconstruction, said that several nations have been pushing for and would be willing to accept the larger role he foresees.
Tuesday's speech, set for 10:30 a.m. EDT, is the president's first to the U.N. since he challenged the international body one year ago to force then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to comply with resolutions demanding Iraq disarm or face "serious consequences."
In his interview with Fox News' Brit Hume, the president said he has no regrets about acting in Iraq and will not apologize.
"I will make it clear that I made the right decision, and the others that joined us made the right decision. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein," Bush said in the interview taped Sunday in the Oval Office.
But while he was unrepentant about his decision to act, the president did indicate he is receptive to offers for assistance.
"My message is, is that although some of you didn't agree with the actions we took, now let's work together to rebuild Iraq, rebuild Afghanistan, fight AIDS and hunger, deal with slavery and deal with proliferation," Bush said.
A message of reconciliation and cooperation may sound appealing, but a majority of the 15-member Security Council (search) -- including veto-holding members France, Russia, China and the United Kingdom -- must agree to a new resolution. And though administration officials continue to say the past is in the past, the president is unwilling to forget opposition to the war from long-time allies.
Specifically, the president noted that France "made a calculated decision last fall to try to lead a lot of nations" against the administration's efforts.
French President Jacques Chirac (search) was quoted Monday saying his nation does not intend to block the new U.N. resolution sponsored by the United States, and that he would help train Iraqi police and military.
That could come in handy in trying to repel continued attacks by hostile forces. On Monday, a car bomber killed an Iraqi policeman and himself and injured 19 other people outside the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. The attack came a month after a deadly bombing there that killed 23 people, including the U.N.'s top envoy.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said the bombings are alarming, but he is not ready to pull the plug on U.N. activities in Iraq.
"We need a secure environment to be able to operate," he said on arrival at U.N. headquarters in New York. "We will go forward, but of course if it continues to deteriorate, then our operations will be handicapped considerably."
Cooperation Makes the Trains Run on Time
While a new U.N. resolution seems almost certain -- a formal resolution may be introduced later this week asking countries to send troops and aid to the region -- the looming question then is timing.
Chirac reportedly called for the immediate transfer of sovereignty in Iraq to the Iraqi people. He indicated that France would approve a two-step plan to transfer power that would consist of a symbolic power shift from the Americans to the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, then a gradual transfer of real power over a period of six to nine months.
But he did tell the New York Times that he is not in the mindset to veto a resolution unless it became "provocative."
The United States insists that moving too soon would be a mistake. According to diplomats familiar with discussions and drafts of the Security Council resolution, the United States prefers to let the IGC come up with a timetable of its own, a compromise that may satisfy the French if the IGC agrees upon it privately in advance of the resolution's passage.
Bush said deadlines would be unwise, because the proper sequence for turning over power is to first have leaders there write a constitution and then hold elections.
"And then sovereignty [can] be turned over to an elected body in Iraq. And therefore, the U.N. must understand that we are very firm on the sequencing of events," Bush said. "And of course we would like a larger role for member states of the United Nations to participate in Iraq ... The key on any resolution, however, is not to get in the way of an orderly transfer of sovereignty based upon a logical series of steps."
Bush is meeting Tuesday with Chirac in New York. Administration officials who argued that Iraq is not yet secure enough to switch over to a self-run government have said that the IGC is moving rapidly toward that goal.
"The government is starting to function, starting to take action, an economic package, an independent judiciary, cabinet ministers coming up with plans they'll be sharing with [coalition provisional authority chief] Ambassador Bremer," Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said at the United Nations.
"All of this is part of a deliberate and well-considered plan to get to the point that we all want to get to, and that is to give Iraq and the Iraqi people full authority for their own destiny and their own hopes and dreams," Powell continued.
Meanwhile, Bush demonstrated U.S. efforts to put Iraqis in charge as quickly as possible, meeting late Monday afternoon with two Iraqi ministers.
They said that while they want self-governance, they are willing to take the time to do it right.
"If people help us for the next year and a half, I almost guarantee to the American people we will have a different Iraq, a democracy that will be an example to the rest of the Middle East," said Ayham Sameraei, the minister of electricity.
While many said they think the United States will succeed in getting the resolution passed, another question is how much help will be forthcoming.
"Obviously, you're not going to let countries like France and other countries like that take over the operations after what the United States has gone through," Sen. Jon Kyl (search), R-Ariz., told Fox News.
While France and Germany could help in small ways, former U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Burt told Fox News: "They've made it very clear at this stage they don't want to send a large number of troops, and I don't think they want to spend a lot of money."
Germany's ambassador to the United States, Wolfgang Ischinger, told Fox News that the bad blood between the United States and countries that led the U.N. anti-war fight "is all past history."
"We must join forces, we must work together, to get the issue of combating terrorism right," he said, calling Germany the United States' "best ally in Afghanistan."
But, he added, Germany is prepared only to help "in a limited way" in Iraq.
"We're not here to make the mission in Iraq more difficult," Ischinger said. "We're here to help."
Bouthaina Shaaban, Syria's new minister of expatriates, told the Associated Press Tuesday that Syria, a U.N. Security Council member that opposed the war, would consider sending peacekeeping forces to Iraq if certain guidelines were imposed.
"Syria would be ready to send troops to Iraq only after the United Nations has the final say in Iraq and if a deadline for the American withdrawal [from Iraq] is put," Shaaban said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) suggested that America's failure to stabilize Iraq has convinced him he was right in opposing the war.
Putin told reporters over the weekend that the United Nations "must have a real role, not a decorative role" in Iraq.
Money Makes the World Go 'Round
In his interview with Fox News, Bush also took issue with Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., who last week suggested that the administration had "bribed" other nations' leaders for support in Iraq, and said that of the nearly $4 billion being spent each month on military operations, only $2.5 billion was accountable to Pentagon activities. The other $1.5 billion was missing in action, he alleged.
"I mean, Senator Kennedy, who I respect, and with whom I have worked, should not have said we were trying to bribe foreign nations," Bush said. "I mean, my regret is -- I don't mind people trying to pick apart my policies, and that's fine and that's fair game. But, you know, I don't think we're serving our nation well by allowing the discourse to become so uncivil that people say -- use words that they shouldn't be using."
Kennedy responded Monday in a statement.
"For the sake of our troops, it's time for this administration to speak honestly about its failures in Iraq. Many Americans share my views, and I regret that the president considers them uncivil."
Kennedy's office also pointed to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, which said the non-partisan agency could not determine how the $3.9 billion the Pentagon reports spending each month is being used.
The CBO did not make any suggestions in the report that any of that money was being used for bribes. In trying to estimate future costs of military operations, the CBO said that it could not use the Pentagon's number as a predictor because the "CBO believes that the $3.9 billion figure may include some one-time costs that CBO would not incorporate in its estimate of the costs of long-term occupation."
As L. Paul Bremer, the coalition head in Iraq, testified on Capitol Hill Monday about the supplemental spending request, the administration submitted the most detailed report yet of how it would spend $20.3 billion to reconstruct Iraq -- in part by building firehouses, post offices, railroads, irrigation systems and hospitals.
Bush's plan, Bremer said, is similar to the Marshall Plan approved to rebuild Germany after the second World War.
The president's request "bespeaks grandeur of vision equal to the one which created the free world at the end of World War II," he said.
Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., ranking member of the committee, described the president's plan as "compassionate colonialism."
Powell said Monday that reconstruction money approved by Congress "will be handled in a responsible manner by the Coalition Provisional Authority working with the Governing Council and, of course, especially through cabinet ministers who are responsible for providing services to the people helping in the reconstruction effort."
Fox News' Jim Angle, Julie Asher, Eric Shawn and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.