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Sunday, April 6

As Bush and Blair meet again, focus turns to sticky postwar questions

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - As he meets Monday in Northern Ireland with Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush presides over two dangerous conflicts: the war now centering in Baghdad and the one soon to follow in securing a new peace in Iraq.

"The aftermath could be as challenging as the war itself,'' Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told ABC's "This Week'' on Sunday.

With the war focused on endgame scenarios of bloody fighting in Iraq's cities, the diplomatic questions now starting to emerge are potentially just as dangerous.

One key question is the role of the United Nations in securing and rebuilding Iraq. Another is what kind of democratic reforms will be instituted in Iraq, whether they will be embraced or greeted with terrorism, and what government emerges from a volatile cauldron of competing religious groups, expatriates and people who stuck it out during Saddam Hussein's regime.

The question of the United Nation's role may provide the most friction between Blair and Bush in their third meeting in four weeks.

Bush acquiesced to Blair's domestic opposition to unilateral action against Iraq by going to the United Nations for war approval last month. But the United Nations balked, and the United States and Britain went in anyway.

The United Nations is held in far more disdain in the United States, both within the government and among average Americans, than in Britain. Polls here give low marks to the United Nation's performance in the crisis and to key members like France and Russia.

Yet the United States, which leads the coalition in defiance of the United Nations, cannot be viewed as a conquering occupier or it will risk further alienating long-term European allies and average Arab citizens, whose anti-Americanism has been inflamed by images of wounded and dead Iraqi civilians.

"We want to internationalize this in our own self-interest,'' Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday on the same program with Warner.

"It's what Blair is trying to do,'' Biden said.

Speaking to the House of Commons last week, Blair tried to finesse potential differences with Bush by declaring that "Iraq should not be run either by the coalition or by the U.N., but should be run by Iraqis." However, the London Sunday Telegraph reported Sunday that a prominent member of Blair's Cabinet said the United Nations should be "put in charge" of Iraq's reconstruction.

Yet there are powerful voices in the Bush administration who believe that if the United Nations is involved in a postwar Iraq, it should be no more than a partner in keeping the peace and helping administer aid, not the dominant oversight body.

Among the "America first'' administration officials is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who told NBC's "Meet the Press'' on Sunday that the United States puts much stock in the Iraqis' abilities to define their own government.

"Iraq, I believe, has one of the most educated populations in the Arab world,'' he said.

Asked whether the huge anti-American demonstrations in Arab nations would persist after the war, Wolfowitz said, "It's too early to say.''

"I think most of the Arab world sees that Saddam Hussein is a horrible dictator and will breathe a sigh of relief when he is gone,'' Wolfowitz said.

But he sidestepped questions about the role of the United Nations and the focus of the United States beyond Baghdad.

Some have suggested that in naming Iran and North Korea in the "axis of evil,'' Bush was signaling that the United States would confront them eventually.

"Every one of these cases is different,'' Wolfowitz said.

To illustrate that point, North Korea said over the weekend that Saddam's experience showed that disarming is exactly the wrong thing to do in confrontations with the United States. It said U.N. inspectors would have no role in monitoring its nuclear weapons program.

But Iran and North Korea are questions outside the immediate focus of Bush and Blair. With American and British troops still trying to win the war in Iraq and with humanitarian needs growing by the day, much of their diplomatic and war-planning strategies will be focused on that country for months - or years - to come.