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Bush, Blair: 'Vital role' for U.N.

News conference ends
Bush and Blair after their Northern Ireland news conference Tuesday

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The U.N. will play a "vital role" in rebuilding post-war Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed Tuesday -- but said the country would ultimately be run by the Iraqi people.

Wrapping up two days of talks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that focused primarily on a post-war Iraq, the two men sought to downplay reported difference between them over how strong a role the U.N. ought to play.

"Evidently, there's some skepticism here in Europe about whether or not I mean what I say," Bush said, apparently referring to reports that Washington does not favor a large role for the U.N.

But, he insisted, he wants the U.N. to have a role in humanitarian efforts, as well as "suggesting people" for what's been dubbed the Iraqi Interim Authority, what Bush described as a "transition, quasi-government."

The Iraqi people, Bush said, would decide who would be part of the interim authority, which would govern Iraq "until the conditions are right for the people to elect their own leadership."

That interim authority is being developed as part of the Pentagon's reconstruction and humanitarian aid effort, U.S. administration officials said.

Bush strongly disputed suggestions that the U.S. wanted to pick the leadership for a new Iraqi government.

"I hear a lot of talk here about how, you know, we're going to impose this leader or that leader," Bush said. "Forget it. From day one, we have said the Iraqi people are capable of running their own government. That's what we believe ... And that's precisely what's going to happen."

The two men also discussed the Middle East and Northern Ireland, but questions about Iraq dominated the news briefing with reporters Tuesday. (Bush urges N. Ireland peace moves)

Blair has been under pressure form his European counterparts to push for a more prominent role for the U.N., but he too made light of any differences with the Bush administration.

"The important thing is not to get into some battle about, you know, words of the precise role here or there, but let's all work together internationally," Blair said.

While Russia, Germany, and France have been pushing for the U.N. to play a leading role in shaping postwar Iraq, the Bush administration has made it clear, through various officials, that U.S. and allied forces would be in charge.

Bush administration officials have argued that the U.S. and allied forces are uniquely qualified to assess the security and volatility on the ground, and therefore should continue, at least in the short run, to control the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday: "I do expect the U.N. to play an important role" in postwar Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he told Annan that since the United States took "the political risk" of moving to replace the regime of President Saddam Hussein, it would only be fitting that U.S. officials should advance Iraq's political reform. He added that Annan had assured him the U.N. "had no interest in controlling Iraq."

This past weekend, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice justified the administration's call for a limited U.N. role, saying Iraq was not like East Timor, Kosovo, or Afghanistan in which new governments were set up under the auspices of the U.N.

On Monday Annan appointed a special U.N. envoy -- Rafeeudin Ahmed, 70, a longtime U.N. official from Pakistan, to coordinate Iraqi reform efforts with the Bush administration.

-- White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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