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Powell Says U.S. and Britain Must Lead Iraq Reconstruction

Powell, on a diplomatic trip through Europe, also announced that foreign leaders reached a tentative agreement to deploy a peacekeeping force from the NATO to Iraq after the war.

“I’m pleased there is at least a receptive attitude here today that NATO is willing to consider [a role]. The important thing is that no one raised any objection to that possibility,” Powell said during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Lord Geoffrey Robertson following a series of talks with European foreign ministers in Brussels.

Responding to requests from European Union leaders that reconstruction efforts fall under the auspices of the United Nations, Powell said the coalition that went in to oust the regime would take the lead.

“I think the [U.S. and U.K.] coalition has to play the leading role… But that does not mean we have to shut others out. There will definitely be a United Nations role, but what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen,” Powell said.

Powell’s statements appeared to conflict with recent remarks of several European leaders, who said the U.N.’s guidance in post-war Iraq was critical to ensure a smooth transition in a post-war Iraq.

“We must stabilize Iraq and the region,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the Associated Press on Thursday. “The United Nations is the only international organization that can give legitimacy to this.”

“I don’t see how we could contribute to the reconstruction without the United Nations playing the key role,” Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said on Thursday.

Despite the tensions over Iraq, European Union and NATO foreign ministers emerged from the talks with Powell — their first full session since U.S. and British forces launched the military action last month — expressing optimism that the U.S. would come to support greater involvement from the international community in the post-war Iraq.

Powell was also scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Brussels later Thursday.

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