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Annan dampens Iraqi funding expectations
( 2003-10-23 15:55) (Agencies)

U.S. and Iraqi officials want billions to help rebuild Iraq, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that they might not get all they need right away.

With the unanimous passage last week of a new U.N. resolution setting out Iraq's future and some 70 countries attending the two-day conference starting Thursday in Spain, Annan told reporters that efforts were "off to a good start."

Yet, he also sought to lower expectations that Washington would come away with the entire $36 billion it hopes to raise to jump-start Iraq's economic recovery.

"I don't expect governments to announce everything they are going to do for Iraq in the future tomorrow," Annan said at a news conference Wednesday night. "But tomorrow and the day after will be an important beginning."

He said he expected enough would be pledged "to start the reconstruction of Iraq in a robust and sustained manner. What's important is that the effort will be sustained."

The president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Ayad Allawi, told reporters in Madrid his country was looking for "serious contributions in funds and not loans," adding "the sooner the better."

Fears about safety and stability in Iraq, where U.S.-led coalition forces are coming under daily attack, should not be an obstacle, he said.

"It is our belief that reconstruction contributes to improving security conditions," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press. "These funds will create job opportunities and in an indirect way will contribute to consolidating stability and providing more confidence."

He also said he expected Arab Gulf states to contribute, adding it would be "shameful" if they didn't. Kuwait promised a "generous" package, but did not specify how much.

Asked about other Gulf states, a U.S. administration official said he expected generous contributions from that area and countries elsewhere in the world when pledges are announced Friday.

But France and Germany, the leading European opponents to the U.S.-led war, stood firm Wednesday in saying they would provide no new money beyond what they have already committed.

"We must move forward toward this recognition of Iraqi sovereignty, which is the central condition," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in Paris.

But before departing for Madrid, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow hinted that some additional funds may still come from Paris or Berlin.

"I've talked to the ministry in both countries and not foreshadowing anything, I'd say that I remain hopeful in both cases," he said.

Although pledges announced so far total just a few billion dollars, the host of the conference, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, tried to sound upbeat.

"We obviously hope and expect it to be a great success for the reconstruction of Iraq," he said, while also stressing it was only the beginning of a process that will last years.

So far, Japan has pledged $1.5 billion for 2004; South Korea has agreed to $200 million, and Canada, $150 million. The World Bank has said it will lend Iraq $3 billion to $5 billion over the coming five years.

Spain pledged $300 million through 2007 and Britain $439 million for 2004-2005. Both were firm supporters of the war.

The European Union's head office has limited its contribution to one year, promising $233 million.

A separate $20 billion package is now before the U.S. Congress, and will go toward security in Iraq and resurrecting its oil industry.

The United States also wants foreign troops to help subdue guerrillas who are supporters of Saddam Hussein, but for now is concentrating on getting support for less controversial work like rebuilding electrical lines, water supply, and infrastructure like courts, post offices and schools.

The centerpiece of the meeting is the creation of a new reconstruction fund managed by the World Bank, the United Nations and a committee of Iraqis. The fund is designed to lure donors wary of a U.S.-controlled fund.

"The money will not only be properly used, but there will be a good oversight mechanism," Annan promised.

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