Annan Rejects U.S. Proposals for U.N. in Iraq
By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - In a stark rejection of American proposals, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made clear on Thursday the United Nations could not play a proper political role in Iraq under terms Washington wanted, U.N. officials and diplomats reported.
While not refusing outright to participate in the political process, Annan told ambassadors at a Security Council lunch that the new U.S.-drafted resolution envisaged a role for the United Nations that could not be implemented.
It was one of the few times during his five years as secretary-general Annan had opposed the United States so bluntly on a crucial issue.
The United States had tacit support for the resolution from a majority of Security Council members, although many were skeptical. But Annan's comments, diplomats said, might make it impossible for the 15-member body to support the measure.
"What we need is a coherent and workable mandate," a senior U.N. official told Reuters. "What we do not want is an unimplementable mandate reached on the basis of a false consensus in the council."
In his remarks to reporters, Annan said the draft resolution had not followed his recommendation of setting up an interim Iraqi government before a constitution was written and new elections were held.
Instead, the resolution makes clear the U.S.-led occupation authorities would control Iraqi civilian life until elections could be held and a constitution written, a process that might take two years.
The new resolution would ask the United Nations to assist the U.S.-appointed 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, in cooperation with the occupation authorities, in preparing a constitution and holding elections.
One envoy quoted Annan as saying that either the U.S.-led coalition or the United Nations should be in charge of the political process but that blurring the lines was dangerous.
"You can really only have one person behind the driving wheel and that is the coalition," said the senior official. "This is an either-or situation and it does not make sense to play a political role it is not able to play."
After the Aug. 19 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people, Annan said he wanted a radical approach that would make it safe for U.N. staff to return. Only about 30 foreign U.N. staff out of more than 600 are in Iraq.
The main purpose of the new resolution, as in earlier drafts, is to transform the military operation into a U.N.-authorized multinational force under American command.
This provision is aimed at attracting contributions from nations wary of sending soldiers as part of an occupation force, although volunteers appear to be scarce.
But U.N. officials said this would prove difficult, as just changing the military component would not be convincing.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the resolution was not "an effort on our part to hang on for as long as we can."
"CAREFUL, RESPONSIBLE WAY"
"But I think it's a bit naive to suggest that any time in the next couple of weeks or months, you can simply say: 'here are 25 people; they seem to be getting along; let's give them responsibility for the country,"' Powell said.
"We have to do it in a careful, responsible way in order to make sure we do not leave a failed state behind," he said.
Russia, France, Germany and other Security Council members held similar positions to Annan, arguing that a symbolic end to the occupation was needed to stabilize the volatile country.
France's ambassador, Jean-Marc Sabliere, told council members at closed consultations the new text "does not meet our expectations," diplomats reported.
Annan told reporters that handing power over more quickly "may change the dynamics on the ground in terms of the security situation."
"That doesn't mean that the international community walks away, " Annan said. "You stay and work with them, through the transition, with reconstruction and with security arrangements -- the kind of thing we are doing in Afghanistan."
"But you get rid of the idea that it is an occupation," he said.
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