Bush calls for U.N. help in rebuilding Iraq President stands firm on rationale for war against Saddam
UNITED NATIONS — President Bush rejected calls from France and Germany to hasten the transfer of power in Iraq, insisting that the shift to self-government can be "neither hurried nor delayed." He urged allies Tuesday to put aside bitter divisions over the U.S.-led war and help lead a massive reconstruction effort.
French President Jacques Chirac challenged Bush by demanding a "realistic timetable" for granting sovereignty. But Chirac said he would not block a U.N. resolution sought by the United States to encourage other countries to contribute troops and money for Iraq.
In the first gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, Bush was unapologetic about the war and its chaotic aftermath and unyielding on U.S. terms for creating a democratic government.
"This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis — neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties," Bush said, spurning demands of France and Germany in a replay of the acrimonious year-old debate over Iraq that has shaken old alliances.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan scolded Bush for the "pre-emptive" attack on Iraq. He said such strikes "could set precedents that result in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force." But Bush said nations that fight terror will be judged favorably by history.
Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder listened to Bush speak in the vast hall where historic debates have echoed for more than a half-century. Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, took Iraq's seat.
Before Chirac took his turn at the microphone, Bush left the chamber, followed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The French president upbraided the United States for having taken a go-it-alone approach in Iraq after the United Nations failed to sanction the war.
"In an open world," Chirac said, "no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules." France has said it wants power handed over to the Iraqis in a matter of months — a position echoed by Schroeder on Tuesday.
Schroeder said he was pleased by Chirac's promise not to block a U.N. resolution. And he welcomed Bush's "positive remarks about the role of the United Nations." Yet in a full day of speeches, none of the leaders responded to the U.S. plea for peacekeeping troops in Iraq.
The Iraq debate reverberated from the United Nations and private meetings in New York to Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said he thought Bush "lost an opportunity."
"He came before the international community and he could have made the case for more troops, more resources," the South Dakota Democrat said. "He didn't do that. ... It was a missed opportunity and that's very disappointing."
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, welcomed Bush's private meetings with world leaders, including Chirac on Tuesday and Schroeder scheduled today. "If our alliances were damaged by the Iraq war, let the liberation of Iraq be the reason for repairing and strengthening those alliances," Hagel said.
Bush and Chirac met face to face in the U.S. Mission near the United Nations after their speeches.
Bush said if he was going to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq and spend $20 billion on reconstruction aid, there must be an "orderly" transfer of power, according to the White House.
Chirac pledged the French "wouldn't stand in the way" of the U.N. resolution Bush seeks and said "France would like to help" in the process.
Bush was clear in telling Chirac "the premature transfer of sovereignty, which has been the French proposal, is just not in the cards," a senior administration official said.
The administration also brushed aside a call from Chalabi for increased power for the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, largely hand-picked by U.S. authorities. The United States is not prepared to transfer sovereignty to 25 unelected people, the official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.