US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are meeting in Belfast in a hastily arranged meeting to discuss the growing gap over the shape of a post-Saddam Iraq, reports UPI.
The main divisive issue is the role of the UN in the political and economic reconstruction
of Iraq once US and coalition forces have toppled the Saddam Hussein regime and claimed victory.
A second potential difference is the question of how long the liberating forces will remain in Iraq after the war, with the growing risk of being seen as an army of occupation.
Blair said in Washington last month that the UN should be "closely involved," and "should endorse any post-conflict administration".
Blair was voicing the general view of a large number of US allies in the war and its opponents, such as France, Germany, and Russia.
Franco Frattini, the foreign minister of Italy, another US ally, said: "We're working to give the UN a primary role, and not just in the humanitarian effort. Iraq must be put in the hands of the Iraqis as quickly as possible."
But there are signs that the Bush administration itself is divided on the UN's role.
Some sources say there is uncertainty in the administration over how to approach the huge problem of rebuilding the shattered and demoralized Iraqi nation.
In the past few days US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Washington had begun "a process of dialogue" with the UN to agree on an "appropriate" role for the world body.
But Presidential foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice declared that a UN role was not currently under discussion.
Rice said the countries that had shed blood in the conflict had earned the right to have the lead in determining Iraq's future.
US plans for a post-Saddam Iraq, as explained by senior officials, envision US and coalition (in this case British) forces remaining in Iraq to maintain security, with day-to-day affairs administered by the newly created US Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid.
The office was established by the Defence Department and is run by retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, who will report to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the US-led war.
Administration officials have said that the country will be divided into three "provinces" each with a US governor.
The next phase is to appoint an interim administration, which will be broad-based and include Iraqi exiles. The administration will have no executive powers, but will gradually take over responsibilities from Garner's office.
The third and final phase will be the election of some form of representative government. But again there is not even a tentative target date for Iraq's emergence as a democratic nation.
Blair was involved in drafting this plan, but feels the involvement of the United Nations should be an important component part. He is believed to favour a UN-managed formula that mirrors the Afghanistan formula.
Blair would like the new political formula for democracy in Iraq to be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.
But Bush administration officials are still simmering over the Security Council's refusal to endorse the war.
Powell has said he could agree to an Iraq conference, but Washington sources say Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his senior civilian advisers would probably block even this move.
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