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Bush, Blair weigh potential UN role at Iraq war summit

The two are meeting for the third time in as many months and will also discuss peace in West Asia.

india Updated: Mar 27, 2003 20:11 IST

With the war in Iraq yet to reach a climax, US President George W Bush was huddling on Thursday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally, on the role the United Nations ought to play when the conflict is over and President Saddam Hussein is gone.

Bush and Blair, meeting face to face for the third time in as many months, were also to explore ways to restimulate the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and mend badly strained Euro-US relations, during a second day of talks at Camp David, Maryland.

And on day eight of the US-led war to overthrow Saddam, British officials said the two men would get a thorough update from their military commanders via video links from Washington, London and coalition headquarters in Qatar.

Blair and his foreign secretary Jack Straw flew in to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington on Wednesday in a driving rainstorm -- their plane was struck by lightning on its way in to land -- then took a helicopter immediately to join Bush at Camp David for dinner.

On the flight, Blair told reporters not to expect any major decisions to come out of the snap summit.

"The next couple of days are not going to determine what the post-conflict situation is going to be like," he said, visibly relieved that after many weeks of frustrating diplomatic quagmire, battle had been joined.

"We'll have to carry on debating that, working on the details of it. The immediate UN thing that has to be sorted out is humanitarian help... The rest of it, we will neccessarily have some time to deal with."

On his way back to London later Thursday, Blair was to make a quick stop in New York City to see UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in an airport VIP lounge to discuss the way forward.

Blair sent 45,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen to the Gulf to join the war, plus 120 tanks, a naval task force led by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and more than 100 fighters, bombers and support aircraft.

But he faces an uphill battle to win Bush over to giving the United Nations oversight of a post-Saddam administration, as officials in Washington are still deeply sore at Germany, Russia, and especially France, whom they blame for thwarting UN Security Council approval for war.

White House officials say privately that the United Nations and large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) definitely have a role to play to in a post-Saddam Iraq by providing sorely needed humanitarian aid.

But they question the need for a UN administration of the country, saying that they see little need for such a regime, which they say would be costly and would only delay plans to hand power quickly to Iraqis.

Briefing reporters late Wednesday, a British official indicated there would be no change to the "agreed strategy" of invading Iraq to oust Saddam and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, even though Saddam loyalists have been putting up stiff resistance on the roads to Baghdad.

"It is not a single issue summit," he explained, "and there will be no decisions taken on that during this summit."

He added: "We have to see what the post-saddam Iraq is going to look like. We have to see what the pace of events are, and we have to also have discussions at the United Nations."

First Published: Mar 27, 2003 14:54 IST