- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called yesterday for the five permanent Security Council members to work more closely to stabilize Iraq, saying he will convene their foreign ministers for talks.

The meeting is likely to take place Saturday in Geneva, he said at a news conference.

U.S. officials confirmed that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would attend. The foreign ministers of France, China, Russia and Britain also are expected for the talks, which follow President Bush’s appeal on Sunday for more international support in Iraq.

“My own sense is that Iraq is of such importance that all of us will have to find a way of working together to stabilize Iraq,” Mr. Annan said. “It also means that countries have to listen to each other.”

The U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council, meanwhile, moved toward increased legitimacy when delegates to an Arab League meeting in Cairo agreed overnight to seat its foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari — a move that could open the door to broader international recognition.

After nearly six hours of closed-door talks, Arab League foreign ministers issued a statement that the Governing Council had been granted Iraq’s seat until a legitimate Iraqi government is formed and a new constitution is drawn up.

“We are claiming our legitimate right to be here and to be represented,” Mr. Zebari said on arrival in Cairo.

“Admission into the Arab League is a way of saying they are the real deal,” said Rajan Menon, professor of international relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

“This is the beginning of … what will be a long process,” he said, “but someone better hurry this along.”

The decision to admit the Iraqi delegate got a strong boost from Kuwait, a staunch supporter of American policies in the region since U.S.-led forces drove Iraqi troops from its territory in 1991.

“Kuwait and some other Arab countries are working to have them take their seat,” Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States, Sheik Salem Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times earlier yesterday.

Other Arab states, while seeking to send a positive signal, had worried that full recognition of the Iraqi delegate would be seen as an endorsement of the war and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In New York, Mr. Annan refused to comment directly on Mr. Bush’s Sunday night address, in which he described the U.S.-led war in Iraq as a war on terrorism and asked that other nations step in with financial and military assistance.

But Mr. Annan did acknowledge that many governments want Washington to cede some political and military power before they get involved with the reconstruction.

“The states concerned have also indicated what they would want to see: the broader internationalization of the operations not just on the military side, but also on the political — on the civilian side, political and economic side, and that they should have a say in the decision-making.

“And I think knowing the positions of the various parties, if they sat and discussed frankly and openly, I think we will be able to find a solution.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking en route home from Iraq and Afghanistan, said yesterday that resistance to U.S. policies by foreign and domestic critics alike was undermining Bush administration efforts in the war on terrorism.

“If you have Al Jazeera day after day after day pounding the people of the region with things that are not true, that makes it difficult,” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Rumsfeld as saying.

“That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a debate. We can live with a healthy debate as long as it is as elevated as possible and as civil as possible.”

Mr. Annan met privately yesterday with the 15 Security Council members to discuss a resolution on Iraq proposed last week by the United States.

On his way out of the hourlong session, John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called it “a good meeting.”

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov stressed the need to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

By yesterday afternoon, no countries had issued concrete pledges of new support except for Britain, whose announcement of 1,200 more troops for Iraq had been long planned.

The United States has been under increasing pressure to return to the United Nations for a resolution that would authorize explicitly a multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq. But to get that, the U.S.-dominated occupation authority will have to assign a broader role to the United Nations — and possibly to nations that opposed the war.

In his remarks Sunday, Mr. Bush called on Europe, Japan and nations in the Middle East to contribute to the reconstruction effort, saying all had something to gain from a secure and prosperous Iraq.

But few nations responded immediately.

France seemed to find in Mr. Bush’s remarks a new receptivity to power sharing, and indicated that diplomats would propose amendments to the U.S. draft resolution.

“This is unquestionably good news for us … as well as for Iraq and the Iraqi people,” European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir said yesterday on RTL radio. “What George Bush said overnight is an opening toward a fitting resolution in the U.N. Security Council.”

One of the French priorities has been a commitment from Washington on how quickly power will be returned to the Iraqi people.

Mr. Annan also touched on the matter yesterday, emphasizing that the Iraqis should take responsibility for political decisions as well as oil sales.

“The day that Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly,” he said.

“We need to work together to find out how we can move the process forward, how we create security on the ground, how we restore essential services and how, as an international community, we come together to make this possible and help Iraqis and the region move forward in a peaceful and prosperous environment.”

Sharon Behn in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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