At least 20 people were killed and scores injured when a suicide bomber struck Baghdad's Canal Hotel, which serves as area headquarters for the U.N. The explosion jolted Baghdad up to a mile away. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
WASHINGTON -- After urgent talks with his top foreign policy team, President Bush decided Wednesday to return to the United Nations for a resolution seeking greater international involvement in Iraq, including more foreign troops and wider funding for reconstruction, U.S. officials said.
The Bush administration had resisted going back to the U.N. for a potentially contentious debate that might pressure the United States to cede partial control of Iraqi reconstruction. But after a devastating bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, it began talks with key allies Wednesday and is expected to begin circulating language for a draft resolution at the Security Council in New York today.
At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte confirmed that the U.S. is working on a new document.
"We're looking at the possibility of another resolution," he said. "I think it's going to be in terms of what are the challenges we face, and what further can the council do in order to face up to these challenges?"
The United States hopes to tap into global outrage over Tuesday's bombing to win quick passage of a resolution providing more troops and financial assistance to stabilize Iraq and support the U.N. mission -- without diluting U.S. control of the coalition forces or the political transition, according to U.S. officials.
"We intend to introduce a resolution as a way of moving forward, which means providing a basis for other people to get involved in several areas, including security," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At the Security Council, there was little appetite for any plan that would give the U.S. control over foreign troops. Countries that were once reluctant to support the reconstruction effort said Wednesday that they were more inclined to contribute money -- even troops -- but only under U.N. control.
Syria, Germany, Chile and Pakistan, countries that did not support the war in Iraq and have withheld help for reconstruction, all said they would back a new resolution ceding more control to the U.N. But there seems to be little common ground between the conditions they envisage and the wishes of the United States.
"There is one thing I'm sure of. Arab nations will not send troops to Iraq under a foreign occupation," said Fayssal Mekdad, Syria's deputy ambassador. "The Fourth Geneva Convention describes the responsibilities of the occupying powers, and one of those is to provide security. The U.N. shouldn't have to ask for other troops to do the job."
Until now, the absence of U.N. backing has been a major obstacle to winning troop commitments from India and even some European countries.
The State Department hopes that the attack will stir them to offer their soldiers and financial support to stabilize the country.
"A lot of people are thinking about how yesterday's events have changed the landscape and how the world's attention has refocused on Iraq and reconstruction. The international community is now more aware of what's at stake," said a second senior administration official, who requested anonymity.
The U.S.-led administration in Iraq is particularly hopeful that a new resolution will pave the way for troop commitments from India, Pakistan, Turkey, France and Germany to help meet growing security needs, according to U.S. officials and diplomats in Washington.
"The coalition has been expanding, and I'm sure it will continue to expand as we move forward," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Wednesday at the president's ranch near Crawford, Texas. "You saw the outrage from the international community, from civilized nations, at this most recent attack. And I think that only reinforces the will and the resolve of what we are doing in Iraq."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will travel today to the United Nations for talks with Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the new resolution and the U.N. presence in Iraq after the bombing, according to administration sources.
Britain, the leading U.S. partner in Iraq, is also dispatching its foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to New York.
One possible compromise could separate the roles of U.N. and coalition forces, with U.N.-authorized troops providing security for U.N. humanitarian missions and some reconstruction efforts.
Washington also hopes the resolution will call on Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran and Syria, to block the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, according to diplomats in Washington. The United States has cited an influx of foreign forces, calling it a leading U.S. security concern.
The Treasury Department is sending a team to Amman and Damascus, the Jordanian and Syrian capitals, to press both governments on the issue of assets. The Security Council has already mandated a universal freezing. There is an estimated $4 billion in Iraqi assets in Syria and "less, but a significant amount" in Jordan, according to a U.S. official.
The resolution may also seek greater backing for the new Iraqi Governing Council, whose members were picked by the U.S.-led occupying forces and so far has been largely shunned by the Arab League.
The Arab League has refused to recognize the Iraqi council, which it views as a puppet government. A resolution passed last week by the Security Council welcomes the Iraqi council but does not endorse it, language finessed to satisfy Arab concerns.
The new U.S. strategy was discussed by the administration in two sessions Wednesday. Bush held talks in the morning with the key members of his foreign policy team during a videoconference linkup among Washington, Baghdad and Crawford. They included Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, also participated in the talks.
Powell held talks Wednesday with several of his counterparts, including the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and other nations in the European Union, according to State Department officials.
The resolution may not take final form this week, U.S. officials caution. "It is neither solid nor gas but more like plasma at this point. There are going to be ideas circulating tomorrow and maybe some paper, but it's still in this protoplasmic stage where people are talking about what things might look like," the second administration official said.
"What happens next depends on the reaction," he added.
The stepped-up effort to win broader international backing comes as congressional pressure builds on the administration. A letter to the White House on Wednesday from two key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), said the Tuesday bombing underscores the "urgent need to recruit additional military and police forces from other countries, particularly from our NATO allies, to improve the precarious security situation."
Iraq is "the world's problem, not just our own," they wrote.
So far, 27 countries in addition to the United States have contributed about 21,700 troops to stabilization operations in Iraq. Four others -- Moldova, the Philippines, Portugal and Thailand -- have pledged additional forces, while Washington is now talking with at least 14 other governments about possible commitments, the State Department said Wednesday.
"There are many members of the international community that have wanted to contribute to this effort, provide security and stability for the people of Iraq and for the humanitarian operations that are being conducted," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
Wright reported from Washington and Farley from the United Nations.