Tough times ahead for US after Annan snub puts Iraq reconstruction in limbo
AP , UNITED NATIONS
Sunday, Oct 05, 2003,Page 1
The US faces an uphill struggle to get Security Council approval of its new resolution on Iraq after France and other countries joined Secretary-General Kofi Annan in criticizing the draft.
Responding to an unusual rebuff from Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell personally assured him on Friday that the Bush administration is trying to assign a significant and helpful role for the UN in Iraq's future.
Annan made clear at a private lunch with the 15 Security Council ambassadors on Thursday that the UN would not risk its staff to play the marginal political role proposed by Washington, a senior UN official said on Friday.
The secretary-general said that since the US-led coalition was going to remain in charge of the country, it must remain in charge of Iraq's political transition to democracy and the UN would not play a secondary role, the official said.
In a telephone call to Annan, Powell said the proposed US resolution would go a long way toward both helping Iraq and smoothing the way for UN involvement in the country's future, a US official said. Annan later discussed his views with US ambassador John Negroponte.
"We are anxious to receive specific suggestions" to improve the proposed resolution, Powell told reporters in Washington Friday, acknowledging that the pace of transition was a subject of ongoing debate.
Diplomats on the council said there was some confusion in Washington because US officials thought they were getting mixed messages from Annan and his top aides, but a senior UN official said the message was clear -- that the UN would not play the second fiddle to the US-led coalition in the political process.
France, Germany, Russia and other council members submitted major amendments to the initial US draft weeks ago, backing Annan's recommendation for a quick transfer of sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi government.
But the US decided to stick with its plan to keep control of the country until a constitution is written and elections are held.
US President George W. Bush's administration has proposed a strengthened UN role in Iraq, especially in the political transition from Saddam Hussein's regime to a democracy.
The new resolution asks the United Nations and the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to help the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council adopt a constitution, hold elections and train civil servants.
It endorses a step-by-step transfer of authority to an Iraqi interim administration, but sets no timetable for the handover of sovereignty.
Annan maintains that having the UN and the coalition lead the political process "is a recipe for confusion" and could expose UN staff to added risk after two bombings at UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 23 people, the UN official said.
Ambassadors from Chile, Mexico and Syria said Friday they would take Annan's views into account after he said the new US document is "not going the direction I had recommended."
The revised resolution won support Thursday from close US ally Britain, which signed on as a co-sponsor, and a sympathetic response from Bulgaria and Spain.
But the Chinese joined the French, Russians and Germans in making clear that the new draft fell short of their demands.
"Our first impression is that our concerns were reflected in the revised proposal in only a very limited way, and that it doesn't translate into the change of approach that we recommended," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said in Paris.
Referring to the two recent bomb attacks, Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said on Friday that UN staff "are willing to risk their lives in certain conditions, but the risk has to be comparable to the task, and [Annan] is not willing to risk the lives of his people for some menial role and not really the leading role that we all want it to play."
For the resolution to pass, Washington needs nine "yes" votes in the 15-member council and no veto from the five permanent members. Unlike the contentious dispute earlier this year over a resolution to authorize the US-led war, nobody is threatening a veto.
But several diplomats said they don't believe the current draft could be adopted.
"If the resolution is put to vote, I don't think it will get nine votes," said Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad.
"We're in a negotiating phase here," US Ambassador John Negroponte said. "I think there's going to be quite a bit of work behind the scenes here and in capitals on trying to work out some kind of mutually agreeable resolution."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the draft can be improved and "we see a desire on their side to compromise."
Moscow has pushed for a stronger UN role and a timetable on the transfer of power.
Annan had recommended that the US hand over sovereignty in three to five months to an Iraqi provisional government, which could then take the two years or so that the US has found is necessary to create a good constitution.
Putting Iraqis in charge of the country would also be more likely to improve security, curb attacks by extremists and attract the troops and reconstruction money Washington is seeking, Annan said, according to the senior UN official speaking on condition of anonymity.
But the Bush administration decided to keep control of Iraq until a constitution is written and elections are held, a process Powell indicated could take a year.
If the US reverses itself and decides to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis,
Annan said the UN would be prepared to accept the risk of returning staff in
large numbers to Iraq -- as it has done in Afghanistan -- to play "an
indispensable role" in building democratic institutions and ensuring a
successful political transition, the UN official said.
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