Wednesday, February 11, 2004

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As a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the international community now takes American resolve more seriously and is more interested in helping in the war on terror.

The failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq has produced headlines around the world about how American credibility has been reduced to tatters, producing fresh concerns in the Bush administration over possible damage to the effort to curb the global spread of such weapons.

Yet administration officials assert that despite the blow to American credibility, allies are expressing a new willingness to work with the United States to combat the spread of nuclear and other illicit weapons in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere.

American officials acknowledge that the damage to the reputation of American intelligence has been significant, making it harder in the future to rally support for confrontations over banned weapons.

"The bar has been raised," the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said recently. "People are going to be very suspicious when one talks to them about intelligence. And they are going to be very suspicious when we try to use intelligence to justify certain actions."

But administration officials say leaders in Europe and Asia especially are more determined than ever to help stop the spread of those weapons, in part to constrain the Bush administration from acting unilaterally.

"The best way of restraining the United States is to convince them that the world is taking this problem seriously," said a European diplomat.

Many diplomats say it would be dangerous if the failure to find weapons in Iraq became a source of complacency. If anything, they said, the need to act — and in concert with international agencies — is heightened.

"It's possible that if someone now comes and says we better take on Libya or North Korea, some of the credibility is gone," said Hans Blix, the former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. "But in the longer term I don't think it matters. There is a lot to do in this area."

Dr. Blix said that although he opposed the Iraq war, at least the world was now convinced of American and British seriousness and of the need to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations.

"We Europeans cannot simply resist forceful action by the United States and leave it at that," he said. "We have to take positive action also. We have to push the United States to use international organizations to face threats to our common security."

American officials, while in some cases defensive about the missing weapons in Iraq, nonetheless say they see no diminution of global concern.

"After the war, I certainly wondered what impact the search for weapons would have on our credibility," said John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control. "But while the chattering classes may chatter, I see no damage to our working with many other countries on these issues."


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