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Tough times ahead for US after Annan snub puts Iraq reconstruction in limbo

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.

UN-US discord over Iraq deepens

By J.T. Nguyen

NEW YORK: The two-day-old US draft resolution on Iraq is considered unworkable by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, especially as it calls for more UN personnel in a country with deteriorating security, a senior UN official said on Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on Annan's position on Iraq, said there are "honest differences of opinion" between the UN leader, who must carry out resolutions, and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the US occupation forces in Iraq led by Ambassador Paul Bremer.

The UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Annan is not leading the charge against the US draft or haggling to buy a carpet in Iraq.

Annan said on Thursday after the draft was submitted that it was "not in the direction I had recommended." It was the first time that Annan spoke publicly against a draft resolution.

The official said the UN is not pretending that it can play an effective political role in Iraq under the present circumstances.

"Either the CPA or the UN can be in charge of the process," he said. "Attempting to blur the roles of the two is a recipe for confusion, and that could expose the UN to risk that is not justified by the substances of the draft."

He said recent attacks against the UN compound in Baghdad were evidence of the risk international workers face. On August 19, a massive bomb attack killed 22 UN workers, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the special envoy for Iraq.

The official said Annan preferred to be given an explicit political role at a later stage, and that role should be supported by the Iraqi Governing Council, a united UN Security Council, the Iraqi people and institutions like the World Bank and IMF.

The official cited the major differences between Annan and the US draft resolution as follow:

Annan proposes that an Iraqi provisional government be set up in four to five months and that the US ends formally the occupation in order to send a strong signal to the Iraqis and the world to cooperate with that government.

The current 25-member Iraqi Governing Council was hand-picked by the US with no executive responsibilities.

The provisional government in Baghdad can invite the CPA to remain in Iraq to give the US a legitimate presence. Other countries can contribute military personnel to a UN-authorized multinational force.

The official said drafting the constitution could take up to two years taking into account the division among Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, all of whom want to share the power in a future government. He said a legislative body, comprising of the Governing Council, the current government cabinet and the constitution committee, should draft the constitution.

Annan's position is in reverse of the US draft, the official said.

The US has called on the Governing Council and Iraqi leaders to draft the constitution and organize general elections for a representative government. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested a six-month deadline to draft the constitution, which would be submitted to a referendum. No timetable has been specified for the US to end the occupation.

The UN official said it would take years to change a society like Iraq to go from a one-party system under Saddam Hussein to a multi-party system. He said some Iraqi leaders have suggested to use the 1958 Iraqi constitution for the short term while negotiations are to begin for the future constitution.

"If you allow more time for a normal process to develop, then there is a hope that alliances could develop across confessional line," he said, pointing to Iraqis' thinking that they should not only be identified by their religions or political affiliations, but as Iraqis as well.

The official said the UN is looking for a mandate in Iraq that is "coherent, and not like a higgledy-piggledy consensus for the sake of agreement. The consensus is not enough, the consensus should be on the basis of a coherent mandate."

"What we are looking for is a mandate that is implementable and the secretary-general is signalling that he does not want to be saddled with a mandate that is unimplementable," the official said.

Annan, who has become more aggressive since August 19 to protect UN personnel, wasn't the only one who opposed the US draft. UN Security Council members like Germany, France and Syria have spoken against the draft as lacking the political and security elements that are essential for resolving the war situation in Iraq.-dpa


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