France has no immediate plan to contribute extra aid to the reconstruction of Iraq outside of what the European Union has pledged, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Wednesday. Villepin’s reiteration of France’s position came as the Bush administration planned to ask allies for billions of dollars at a two-day donors conference for Iraq that starts Thursday in Spain.
“WE DON’T FORESEE any additional aid at this stage — either in terms of financial aid or in cooperation,” Villepin said.
France, which opposed the war in Iraq, had wanted the latest U.N. resolution to include a deadline for restoring Iraqi sovereignty.
One day ahead of the Madrid conference, Villepin said France was committed to carry its share of the 200 million euros ($235 million) pledged in aid to Iraq from European Union coffers for 2003-2004 but would not go further until the question of Iraqi sovereignty was resolved.
“To us, the starting point is truly the full and complete recognition of Iraqi sovereignty,” he said.
“We consider that we have to move towards this recognition of Iraqi sovereignty, which is the central condition if you really want to launch the reconstruction process in Iraq.”
France will not be represented by its foreign minister at the conference in Madrid, where cash-strapped allies who opposed the war and are unhappy with the U.S. blueprint for restoring the country’s sovereignty will be asked to bolster the reconstruction push.
With Iraq still looking like a country at war — and with the money set aside for rebuilding it falling way short of the estimated $36 billion needed over four years — U.S. officials and host Spain say the meeting that begins Thursday is more about spirit than money.
“What is the aim of the conference? To give the image of commitment,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. “The second objective is to raise funds,” she said on Spanish television last week.
Earl Anthony Wayne, a senior U.S. State Department official, agreed. He defined success as “coming away with the Iraqis having a sense that the international community is with them.”
U.S. officials won’t say how much they hope to raise at the conference.
ANNAN AND POWELL
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will deliver the opening address at the conference, expected to draw representatives of nearly 60 countries, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq.
Organizers also say Annan’s presence provides crucial support to the conference. He wasn’t scheduled to attend until the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution establishing a multinational force under U.S. command in Iraq.
Germany, like France, which opposed the war and wanted the U.N. resolution to include a deadline for restoring Iraqi sovereignty, has ruled out any immediate contribution of money or troops and does not plan to send cabinet-level ministers to the Madrid conference.
Russia is sending a deputy minister and says its main goal is to ensure that contracts signed under Saddam Hussein’s regime are honored and to explore new ones.
Separate from the conference, representatives from 225 companies and several business associations from around the world will meet with Iraqi officials to discuss investment opportunities.
Critics complain that Iraq is now in for wholesale privatization because of a new investment code approved by Bremer in September. It allows foreigners 100 percent ownership of companies except in the oil sector.
“This will make Iraq a banana republic,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Occupation Watch, a San Francisco-based group advocating a rapid transition to Iraqi self-rule.
The centerpiece of the conference is the presentation of a new trust fund to attract contributions from countries reluctant to provide funds to an account controlled by the United States.
The new fund will be managed by the World Bank, the United Nations and a committee of Iraqis. The plan is to allow countries to donate money and specify what it should be used for.
The first day of the conference will feature largely technical discussions on Iraq’s needs in areas such as education, health and its electrical grid. The formal pledges will come Friday.
The $35.8 billion estimate by the World Bank is separate from $20 billion the United States says it will spend on providing security in Iraq and resurrecting its oil industry.
So far Japan has pledged $1.5 billion for 2004; South Korea has agreed to provide $200 million and Canada said it will give $150 million.
WORLD BANK PLEDGES $4 BILLION
The World Bank has said it will lend Iraq up to $4 billion over the coming five years.
The European Union, which includes France and Germany, has limited its contribution for Iraq to one year, promising $233 million.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten said he was satisfied with its proposed contribution, noting it was about the same the European bloc spent in Afghanistan in the first year after the U.S.-led war that toppled the Taliban.
InsertArt(2048330)“It’s our first payment,” he said. “I very much hope next year I am able to come back and ask for more.”
Spain and Britain — both firm supporters of the war — pledged $300 million through 2007 and $439 million for 2004-2005, respectively.
Spanish officials said there will be a “significant contribution” from countries in the Gulf region, and further pledges are expected from countries including Australia, Belgium and Luxembourg.
“These countries can all claim that they’re short of money because of the economy. But if they wanted to give, they could. In the end, it’s political reasons that are keeping people from giving,” Manuel Coma of the Real Instituto Elcano, a Madrid-based think tank, told The Associated Press.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.