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April 7, 2003

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Bush, Blair Discuss Iraq Reconstruction
Bush Travels to Northern Ireland to Discuss Reconstruction of Iraq With British Prime Minister

The Associated Press

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland April 7

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair began to focus on postwar rebuilding in Iraq on Monday, as Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "The hostilities phase is coming to a conclusion."

Bush and Powell stepped off Air Force One under gray, threatening skies and went immediately to a meeting with Blair at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast. In addition to Iraq, the leaders were discussing ways to revive peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

The meeting came as U.S. troops stormed one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad and dozens of U.S. tanks rumbled through the capital. Powell looked beyond the fighting and said, "It is time for all of us to think about the post-hostility stage how we create a representative government consisting of all elements of Iraqi society."

The reconstruction question has divided the president's advisers and the United States and Britain. Blair wants deeper U.N. involvement in postwar Iraq than Bush, who seeks a transitional governing authority consisting of Iraqi exiles and people living in the country now. Powell played down the differences, saying, "There isn't as much debate and disagreement as you might read in the newspapers."

The secretary said that the United States is sending a team to Iraq this week to begin laying the groundwork for an interim authority. He said the United Nations can provide humanitarian aid and add legitimacy to the interim authority, but he did not describe a role for the U.N. beyond that. Powell made clear that the U.S.-British coalition should play the leading role.

"The coalition, having taken the political risk and having paid the cost in lives, must have a leading role," Powell said. Powell, one-time chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was impossible to predict how long the war would last.

He also said he could not foresee how long it would be before Iraq is self-governing. He said that depends on how long the war lasts and whether "we have truly broken the back of the regime."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the other leader invited to the summit, said Monday he would tell Bush the United Nations should have a primary role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

"We want to see a new administration that will have greater legitimacy if it is under the (authority) of the international community," he told reporters in Dublin.

It wasn't clear whether the summit would produce firm agreements on postwar Iraq. White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the meeting would "further the process of considering these questions about post-Saddam Iraq, reconstruction, humanitarian aid."

The Bush-Blair meeting is the two leaders' third face-to-face session in just over three weeks.

By agreeing to Blair's request to meet in Belfast, Bush is taking the boldest step of his presidency into the decades-old conflict in Northern Ireland, and adding a set of issues that complicates his trip.

Then-President Bill Clinton made three trips to Northern Ireland, the most of any U.S. president. Clinton's envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, led the Belfast negotiations that produced the British province's Good Friday peace accord of 1998. That pact sought to end three decades of sectarian conflict in the British territory that saw more than 3,600 killings.

Bush has shown less interest, delegating the business of following Belfast developments to a senior State Department official, Richard Haass.

Blair, a stalwart ally of Bush in the Iraq war, hopes presidential backing will strengthen his hand when he publishes his government's new Northern Ireland plans by Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday pact.

McCormack said Bush's visit was meant to lend support to Blair's efforts.

The location of the summit, Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast, shields Bush and Blair from the kind of mass anti-war protests that have engulfed London and other European cities.

But there was unprecedented security at the castle, and in contrast to previous meetings there, protesters were not allowed near the gates.

Placards in downtown Belfast branded Bush a "war criminal" and urged citizens to join anti-war protests Monday.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was troubled by the "insensitivity here about calling a war summit in Ireland."

"It doesn't take into account the concerns that the vast majority of people here have about what's happening in Iraq," Adams said in Belfast's News Letter newspaper.

photo credit and caption:
President Bush is greeted by British Prime MinisterTony Blair at Hillsborough Castle, Monday, April 7, 2003 in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. Bush is on a 19-hour visit to Northern Ireland to discuss the war and rebuilding in Iraq while trying to revive peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. (AP Photo/POOL, Paul Faith )

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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