A Defrost in US-UN Relations on Iraq? ; Key UN Meeting Tuesday Will Help Define Outlines of Global Involvement in Rebuilding

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The United States and the United Nations have been inching back toward each other since their falling out over the war in Iraq. Tuesday, a Security Council meeting set to take up postwar Iraq will test how quick - and how extensive - the making up will be.

In receiving their first report from Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative to Iraq, as well as a three-person delegation from the recently named Iraqi Governing Council, Security Council members are likely to give hints on several topics of keen interest to the US. One such topic is the openness of other countries to providing both personnel and financial assistance for Iraq's reconstruction.

Both the US and UN members have an interest in seeing Iraq's occupation and reconstruction broadened beyond the US and Britain. But obstacles are expected to arise where countries' interests are still diverging.

The US - paying about $1 billion a week for an occupation it thought would be less costly and require fewer soldiers - wants foreign troops to help out and their governments to foot some of the bill. But other countries want more of a UN mandate over any operations they would join - a prospect that leaves some Bush policymakers cold.

"The meeting is seen as a step towards getting beyond the disagreements over Iraq, and if the delegation is allowed, it will be the first time Iraqis speak to the Security Council since the war, and that could have tremendous impact," says a UN official close to Council operations. "But no one is saying that as a result, harmony will bloom and things will move quickly."

That was echoed by one US official in New York who says, "I doubt we'll be having any moves towards anything as formal as [a new UN resolution broadening the UN's mandate in Iraq] within the near future."

Recommended recognition

What could happen short of another resolution is Security Council endorsement of Iraq's new 25-member Governing Council as the framework for a future, post-occupation Iraqi government. The Governing Council was named by the occupying countries, but in a new report, Mr. Annan recommends Security Council recognition of the appointed body as a "representative partner" with which the international community can work.

Annan's endorsement in effect says the Governing Council is the "interim government" the UN body's last resolution on Iraq urged the occupying powers to create. This is Annan's way of suggesting to the Security Council that the US is being responsive to international interests in Iraq, some officials at the UN say, and that international cooperation on Iraq should increase. …