Powell Hastily Heads for Meetings with European Leaders

Wednesday, 02 April 2003 06:55 by: Anonymous
By Joel Brinkley
New York Times

Tuesday 1 April 2003

WASHINGTON, April 1 As Secretary of State Colin L. Powell headed to Europe today for consultations with America's erstwhile allies, he left behind a simmering debate over the adequacy of coalition war plans and he faced meetings with bitter European leaders who indicated they may not greet him with open arms.

Some Europeans complained that the visit was coming too late, others that it was too early. And the foreign minister of Greece, which holds the European Union presidency, suggested that some of the union's members were likely to pressure Mr. Powell to push for an end to the war in Iraq.

"If this is a move where the European voice is heard, then it should be a message of peace," said George Papandreou, the foreign minister.

The State Department arranged Mr. Powell's trip to Europe hastily so quickly that Mr. Papandreou said he learned that Mr. Powell was coming to Brussels from news reports.

Mr. Powell said he wanted to talk with European leaders about efforts to send aid to Iraq and to stabilize the country after the war.

In Washington, meanwhile, a senior administration official affirmed today that President Bush continued to support Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, despite some complaints about Mr. Rumsfeld's handling of the Pentagon's war plans.

"The president has tremendous faith in Secretary Rumsfeld and his generals, Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership" and "Secretary Rumsfeld's decisions," the official said.

Mr. Rumsfeld has vigorously denied that he had overruled his generals in devising the Pentagon's war plans, and today he dismissed the complaints as "nonsense." But a number of American military officers have said the Pentagon, at Mr. Rumsfeld's insistence, did not send enough troops to wage the war properly.

The senior administration official said: "The Pentagon is a big building. There are 1,000 colonels."

Mr. Powell landed in Turkey tonight on the first leg of his trip. He said his aim in Turkey was to ensure "a common understanding" on the future of northern Iraq after the long, contentious debate over whether the United States could stage troops in northern Iraq.

In Ankara today, the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said "the visit will definitely be very useful in removing some doubts that have circulated in recent days."

Turkey very much wants to send troops into northern Iraq but has refrained from doing so principally because of pressure from Washington, and Mr. Powell is expected to keep that pressure on.

In Europe, Mr. Powell will have to deal with sharp differences between the position of its leaders and that of Washington on how to deal with providing aid and stability to Iraq after the war ends. Adding to the tensions of the latest European talks, wounds on both sides are still raw from the bitter debate last month over whether to go to war.

As indications of that, a spokesman for the European Union presidency said Mr. Powell should have come to Europe earlier.

"We are not opposed to these meetings," a Greek government spokesman, Christos Protopapas, said. "But it would have been good if Mr. Powell had taken such initiatives before the start of the war." Still, Mr. Protopapas conceded, "any discussions are welcome. We are not against any dialogue. It's never too late."

Apparently not everyone in Europe agrees even on that grudging acceptance of Mr. Powell's visit. "This meeting comes too early for us to discuss detailed plans," said Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for the European Union, said in Brussels. She added, however, "it is important that we carry on discussions during the conflict."

The key area of potential disagreement between Washington and Europe now is how central a role the United Nations will take in administering post-war Iraq. Mr. Powell has said he supports a strong role for the United Nations, but he has also made it clear that the United States will lead. As the secretary put it last week, "We didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant, dominating control over how it unfolds in the future."

In Brussels, among the people Mr. Powell is to meet is Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, Mr. Ivanov's office said today. Mr. Ivanov was one of the United States' harshest antagonists during the debate over whether to approve a second United Nations resolution that the United States and its allies could use to pursue a war in Iraq. Russia has said it is concerned that the United States might lock companies from other countries out of the lucrative post-war reconstruction business in Iraq.

Also today, the French Foreign Ministry announced that Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin for Washington, the b te noir of Europe just now will also attend the meetings in Brussels on Thursday. His office said it could not say whether Mr. de Villepin will meet with Mr. Powell. He and President Jacques Chirac of France have made it clear that they oppose allowing the United States and Britain to take a dominant role in post-war Iraq.

Just before Mr. Powell left for his trip, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, noted with an understated tone: "We have allies with different views. We will be talking about that."

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