Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, April 08, 2003

News Analysis: Bush, Blair Meet in Belfast on Issues of Iraq, Mid East, N.Ireland

US President George W. Bush arrived in Belfast on late Monday for a two-day summit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the war in Iraq and peace process in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.


US President George W. Bush arrived in Belfast on late Monday for a two-day summit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the war in Iraq and peace process in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

Bush, accompanied by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, headed directly for talks with Blair at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast, shortly after his arrival.

Blair, Bush's firm ally in this ongoing war against Iraq, flew in earlier at about 1630 GMT and waited for Bush at Hillsborough Castle.

The two leaders have met three times over the past few weeks and this summit is held with reports that US troops tightened their hold on the Baghdad on Sunday and British troops drove into the center of Basra to seize a large chunk of Iraq's second largest city.

Bush and Blair met in the Azores island on March 16, along with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, days before the US started war on Iraq without UN approval. And one week after the war broke out on March 20, they held private talks on Iraq at the Camp David in Maryland, the United States, on March 26-27.

Bush and Blair would hold a joint press conference around 1100 GMT on Tuesday morning after talks presumably on the postwar reconstruction of Iraq and what role the United Nations can play in the process, according to the Northern Ireland Office.

Differences have emerged between the two countries over how long should it be before Iraq is handed over to an interim Iraqi administration, and how powerful a US-led group of generals and former diplomats should be to effectively run the country.

According to media reports, British Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien recently outlined proposals in which a US team headed by retired general Jay Garner would advise and make decisions about running basic services in the "few weeks" after the war in Iraq, along with a UN commissioner.

The general would then hand the power over to an interim Iraqi authority "as quickly as possible" before a UN-backed conference of Iraqi groups could lay the path to elections in the country.

But America's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, appeared to sideline the United Nations on Friday when she said the coalition "would have the leading role" in rebuilding Iraq.

Pentagon has begun outlining proposals for postwar Iraq, putting the United States in charge, at least for the first three months.

However, the analysts said Britain and the United States are expected to decide how they would perform during the next phase ofdiplomatic tussle over Iraq at the summit despite the fact that the war in Iraq is still under way.

As the coalition forces are advancing toward Baghdad, analysts said, the Belfast meeting would be a chance to discuss final-stagebattle plans for war in Iraq.

During their two-day meeting, Bush and Blair would also highlight the Middle East peace process, raising expectations thatthe long-promised road map to the creation of a Palestinian state would finally be published.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer earlier said there are no plans to release the "roadmap" for Middle East peace during the summit.

The escalation of the US-led military campaign in Iraq was likely to raise more roadblocks to the long-delayed peace plan between Israel and Palestine which had already mired in disputes over how to carry it out, analysts said.

The US-led Quartet has drafted the peace plan which prescribes a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005.

The United Nations and European mediators for the Middle East had pressed the US to release the road map after months of hesitation partly caused by Israeli objections.

The United States and Britain have said the guidelines for Mideast peace would be unveiled after the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Cabinet are sworn in, probably sometime this month

Bush, who was expected to leave Belfast for home on Tuesday afternoon, would swing to Northern Ireland after his joint news conference with Blair on Tuesday.

Bush and Blair were expected to draw Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in their talks on the peace process in Northern Ireland by inviting him to lunch, informed sources said.

They were also expected to meet with some key Northern Ireland leaders of the province's three main political parties, the UlsterUnion, the Sinn Fein Party and the Social Democratic and Labor Party, with an aim to urge them to take the final steps for the deadlocked peace process.

By visiting Belfast at this crucial stage of war in Iraq, Bush is thought to do a favor for Blair, who has sent about 45,000 servicemen for fighting with US troops in the Gulf, the analysts said.

Bush has not taken a close interest in the details of the Northern Ireland peace process, and his involvement would be seen as a sign to show that he would not revert to isolationism once the Iraq crisis is resolved, they added.

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