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US OFFICIALS PROMISE UNSPECIFIED REWARDS FOR SUPPORT OF BUSH POSITION AGAINST SADDAM HUSSEIN

Slovakia may play role in reconstruction of Iraq

IN REWARD for its steadfast support for the US stance against Iraq, Slovakia can hope for economic benefits and an active role on the reconstruction of Iraq after a war, US lawmakers have promised.
"We have not asked anything of [the Slovak] government that they have not delivered and delivered quickly," said US secretary of commerce Don Evans during a visit to Slovakia on February 28.
"[Slovakia opened its] airspace, railways, and highways [to the US military]. They have just sent a [nuclear, biological, and chemical protection] unit into Kuwait, which will be the largest unit ever that's been put together to deal with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons," Evans said.


US SECRETARY of commerce Don Evans talks Iraq with Prime Minister Dzurinda.
photo: TASR

IN REWARD for its steadfast support for the US stance against Iraq, Slovakia can hope for economic benefits and an active role on the reconstruction of Iraq after a war, US lawmakers have promised.

"We have not asked anything of [the Slovak] government that they have not delivered and delivered quickly," said US secretary of commerce Don Evans during a visit to Slovakia on February 28.

"[Slovakia opened its] airspace, railways, and highways [to the US military]. They have just sent a [nuclear, biological, and chemical protection] unit into Kuwait, which will be the largest unit ever that's been put together to deal with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons," Evans said.

"So this is a country where, when we have asked for support, they have given it, not only in words but in deeds, and they've done it quickly, without any hesitation whatsoever," he added.

Evans, who worked for George W Bush's successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998 and served as chairman of the Bush 2000 presidential campaign, is described as President Bush's "best friend" and "closest adviser" by the US media.

On his trip to central and eastern Europe, Evans visited what are seen as the US's closest allies in the region - Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, which holds a seat on the UN security council.

Analysts say these countries will almost certainly be rewarded for their loyalty with economic benefits some time in the future.

"US foreign policy currently differentiates between those European countries it sees as its friends and those who are former friends. Those seen as friends by the US will naturally be offered economic advantages," said Ivo Samson, analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.

"And Slovakia's active support for the US position will sooner or later be reflected in better business relations," Samson added.

Evans's words were in line with these assumptions, although he stopped short of specifying the nature of benefits the country might hope for.

"Slovakia is our friend. If war is necessary I assure you that we will remember our friends and those that were there alongside of us. And those that made sacrifices along with us. So I will just leave it at that," he said.

Experts say participation in the reconstruction of Iraq following military intervention is one of the possible ways in which Slovakia can expect to be repaid.

"This is already being considered. In my opinion it is likely, or even probable," said Samson.

"The US should take into account Slovakia's initiative, and after the war is over give all engaged countries the chance to participate in the reconstruction," said Milan Šikuta, head of the Institute of Slovak and World Economy at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, adding that exactly how much rebuilding will be needed "will depend on the duration of the conflict and the level of destruction."

"In the case of a large-scale military conflict, all fields of the Iraqi economy are likely to [need rebuilding], most of all the strategic fields," said a representative of the Slovak Economy Ministry who deals with economic relations with Iraq.

Whatever the size of Slovakia's involvement, it is like to be advantageous, observers said.

"Reconstruction is always a huge investment and export opportunity," said Šikuta.

Experts point out that Slovakia could help in several fields.

"It could be in the field of machinery or energy, and we also have experience with the processing of oil," said Šikuta.

"Slovakia is prepared to participate in reconstruction within its economic limitations. For example, it could provide experts on the reconstruction of infrastructure or the energy distribution network. We don't have any specific plans," said the Economy Ministry representative.

The mechanism of choosing companies to carry out reconstruction work is not yet known.

"We have no information about this, but we hope that the mechanism of distributing deals will be transparent and fair. We are ready to take part in international negotiations on this topic," said the Economy Ministry representative.

Reconstruction after war is not new to the Persian Gulf. After the 1991 Gulf War a lot of work had to be done to put the country back together. However, despite their active role in that war, many countries were left out and most of the work was done by US companies. Experts say it would be different this time round.

"Kuwait was a little different. The UN gave its mandate to a coalition of states to free the country and the US played a decisive role. Afterwards, the political elite of Kuwait itself chose to give the US a free hand in deciding who would get to participate in the economic reconstruction of the country," said Samson, adding that international supervision should this time ensure a more balanced result.

But for now, most hope that serious damage to Iraq can still be avoided.

"It would be best if there was no need for any reconstruction," said Šikuta.

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