by Ed Holt and Martina Pisarova
(IPS) BRATISLAVA --
the U.S. and Britain divide up the spoils of the war in Iraq, some of the East European countries that backed the assault are looking for a piece of the action.
President George W. Bush has promised money and a role in helping rebuild Iraq, but some analysts say a strong relationship with the U.S. will be prized as much as financial rewards.
"The question of support was not a matter of calculation," says Alexander Duleba, foreign policy expert at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association. "That would be a very superficial position to take. Whether or not there will be a couple of million dollars for backing the action against Iraq, or whether firms from these countries get some reconstruction contracts in Iraq were a long way down the list of reasons such a stance was taken."
The countries of central Europe, such as Slovakia, acted in their national interest "because as small countries with a Communist past they are more vulnerable than the world's superpowers," he said. "It is in their interest to be a part of strong organizations, including the European Union and NATO."
Ten central and east European states officially backed the U.S.-led military action in Iraq, with several providing logistic and military support by opening airspace and allowing U.S. troops to use their airbases.
In a meeting with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster in Washington on April 9, Bush told Schuster that Slovakia would have a role to play in rebuilding Iraq.
Slovakia was allocated $6 million for its support. Slovak firms are now hoping to bid as suppliers to some of the larger international firms which will win contracts to help reconstruct the battered country.
Other East European nations are following suit. About 500 Polish companies have expressed an interest in public works and oil industry contracts. Some Polish firms want to get back more than $700 million owed to them from road construction in Iraq in the 1980s.
Romania wants its pre-Gulf War I debts of $1.7 billion paid back. The Czech Republic is hoping for contracts to equip the Iraqi army and police force, drawing on its experience of modernizing its own Soviet-era equipment with U.S. aid.
The government in Slovakia has focussed on business opportunities. The Slovak Economy Ministry has said post-conflict contracts for reconstruction would be good business for them. President Schuster has been quick to claim that any contracts could help reduce the nation's 17 per cent unemployment.
"We can contribute with production and development of military systems in which we have good experience," Schuster told Bush. "A lot of jobs can thus be created in Slovakia."
"Reconstruction is always a huge investment and export opportunity," says Milan Sikuta, head of the Institute of Slovak and World Economy at the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
But Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda will be looking also for less tangible rewards for his decision to back the U.S. -- a decision that went not only against a number of powerful states in the European Union, which Slovakia will join next year, but against the opinion of the majority of the country's five million people.
The U.S. is expected to recognize that. "Naturally the U.S. took note of Slovakia's position and appreciated it," says Duleba. "If countries share common positions in conflicts, it increases the ties between them."
The aspiring members from Eastern Europe were described as "primitive" by French President Jacques Chirac before the war for their support for the military action.
But their stand has almost certainly strengthened their hands in NATO, and may have speeded the resumption of dialogue between the U.S. and Europe. "From the U.S. point of view this stance shows them who are the allies they have in Europe," says Duleba.
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