Bush, Schroeder make up, but Iraq troops elusive
( 2003-09-25 10:41) (Agencies)
President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder drew a line under a bitter, year-long dispute over the Iraq war on Wednesday, but Washington's quest for foreign troops to share the burden of occupation remained elusive.
Bush met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to seek help in Iraq, but officials said neither pledged peacekeeping troops.
Bush and Schroeder, who had not met privately for more than a year, told reporters after a cordial meeting that their past differences were over. Schroeder made outspoken opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq the centerpiece of his re-election campaign last year, infuriating Washington.
The German leader pledged economic assistance for reconstruction and training for Iraqi police and soldiers in Germany, but not troops on the ground, saying German forces were fully stretched in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
"I have told the president how very much we would like to come in and help with the resources that we do have," he told reporters.
Bush, whose doctrine of "pre-emptive" war came under fierce criticism on the first day of the annual U.N. gathering, said of his relations with Schroeder: "Look, we've had differences, and they're over, and we're going to work together."
Musharraf told a news conference Pakistani public opinion was strongly opposed to sending troops but could be swayed if other Muslim countries joined a U.N.-mandated force at the request of Iraqi people and they were not seen as occupiers.
Facing continuing and increasingly deadly attacks, the United States has 131,000 troops in Iraq, and other foreign troops, most from Britain and Poland, number about 23,000. The military costs are running about $1 billion a week.
FEW EXTRA TROOPS
At home, Bush faces sliding approval ratings and a tough fight in Congress to win support for his $87 billion extra budget request to fund occupation and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United States is rewriting its proposed Security Council resolution that calls for U.N. authorization for a multinational force in an effort to attract troops and other aid from countries unwilling to be part of an occupying force.
But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, Washington's main comrade-in-arms in Iraq, appeared to acknowledge that even with a new resolution few extra soldiers might be forthcoming in the near future.
"The main purpose of the resolution is much more what I describe as psychological-political than it is in terms of providing an extra thousand troops here or a thousand troops there," Straw told reporters.
U.N. diplomats said Washington wanted consensus on a resolution before an Oct. 24 donors' conference in Madrid.
But they said the Bush administration appeared divided over how far to compromise, with hard-liners arguing there was no point in making major concessions since few troops and little extra money was likely to be forthcoming.
A day after French President Jacques Chirac and Bush failed to narrow their differences on a transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi authority, Schroeder was less insistent on the issue.
There were still divergences on the timing, he said, "but since both sides want to transfer government powers to Iraqis, the time frame must be bridgeable."
The senior U.S. official said no one except France was seeking an early handover, and Washington would not accept a premature transfer of sovereignty that might fall apart.
Chirac, Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who united earlier this year to prevent U.N. blessing for the war, met in New York and agreed to work together on a new resolution "in a positive and constructive spirit," Chirac said.
Asked whether the Schroeder-Bush rapprochement left France isolated, he added: "There is not the slightest shadow or a difference between the French and German positions."
Bush defended the overthrow of Saddam Hussein when he addressed the assembly on Tuesday, and offered no apology either for the chaotic security situation or failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
An eagerly awaited U.S. inquiry is expected to soon report finding "documentary evidence" that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons programs but no proof of actual arms, a U.S. official said.
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