| US President George W. Bush at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast on Tuesday. (Reuters)
London, April 8: President Bush left political analysts scratching their heads today after he pledged the UN would play “a vital role” in the interim administration of Iraq after the decisive defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime. What did he mean by the word, “vital”'
Asked by an American journalist what he had meant by “vital,” Bush replied with faultless Texan logic: “A vital role for the UN means a vital role for the UN.”
Against a sea of US and UK flags at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, Bush made his statement at a joint press conference with Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, after their summit to discuss Iraq, West Asia and the peace talks in Northern Ireland.
Blair, too, echoed Bush’s words and confirmed that there would be “a vital role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq”.
Many commentators have detected a contradiction between Blair’s commendable efforts to follow a peace talks in Northern Ireland and his willingess to pursue a military solution in Iraq.
Analysts immediately pointed out that a “vital role” falls short of the pivotal or central role for the UN that many, including the French and the Russians, are demanding. Others said that Blair appears to have won a compromise from Bush, who had earlier appeared intent on relegating the UN to providing only humanitarian aid in post-war Iraq but with no real political clout.
Much will now depend on what Bush means by “vital”, a new word he had clearly agreed with Blair before their press conference.
After their opening statements, the two leaders took questions, Blair from his chosen British correspondents, Bush from tame American ones.
He did provide a fuller explanation when he said: “A vital role is an agent to help people live freely and that means food, medicine, aid.”
Bush added that the UN could also “suggest” people for the Interim Iraqi Authority. Included in the interim government would be Iraqis from both inside and outside the country, he said.
Iraq would be initially run by an interim government, Bush said, emphasising that he was committed to working with the international institutions, including — and he stressed the word “including” — the UN.
On the BBC’s World at One radio programme, this later produced a tart comment from Andrew Marr, the BBC’s political editor, who is always allowed by Blair to ask a question: “Well, the World at One could suggest people for the Interim Iraqi Authority.”
This meant that in Marr’s opinion, “suggest” did not imply much authority for the UN.
However, Blair will take some comfort from Bush’s pledge in seeking to win over his detractors within his own Labour party.
By coming to Northern Ireland even, the President, who is believed to dislike overseas travel, appears to have made another gesture towards the man he addressed publicly as “Tony”.
British reports from Baghdad today suggested that the Americans may have a mole within the Saddam camp and are now targeting the Iraqi leader with renewed vigour. Bush said he did not know whether Saddam was still alive --— the Americans and the British have been encouraging the world and especially the Iraqis to play a guessing game — but added his grip on power was being loosened.
“I can’t tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat (of the Iraqi people),” he said, using language more homespun than Blair’s polished English, “but the fingers are coming off one by one.”
It was left for Blair to state: “This new Iraq that will emerge is not to be run either by us or indeed by the UN, that indeed is a false choice. It will be run by the Iraqi people.”
Bush agreed and added in language the folks back home would understand: “The Iraqi people are plenty capable of running Iraq.”