- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

The Bush administration is sticking to its timetable for Iraqi self-rule by July 1, but United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that deadline might have to be reconsidered to forge an agreement on a provisional government.

Asserting “the U.N. has a role to play in Iraq,” Mr. Annan said he would send a mission as soon as its safety could be assured, but was not ready to re-establish a U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Two suicide bombings prompted Mr. Annan to withdraw U.N. diplomats in October. “We are not going to go back permanently now,” he said in New York.

The administration is looking to the United Nations to talk to a wide range of Iraqi leaders about the planned transition from U.S. occupation to Iraqi sovereignty. But the United States does not want to postpone the July 1 deadline or hold direct elections of an interim assembly as demanded by Shi’ite clerics.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration and some U.N. experts remain convinced that elections could not be held before July 1.

“But we are willing to listen to ideas when the U.N. team comes back to see what they might say,” Mr. Boucher said.

The administration had kept the United Nations at arm’s length before and during the U.S.-led war last year that ousted Saddam Hussein.

But in order to give its postwar planning what one U.S. official called “more credibility,” the administration invited Mr. Annan to assist in planning transition and a constitutional democracy in Iraq.

That, in turn, has produced some different shadings in view.

Mr. Annan, who conferred Tuesday with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington, said in New York that both U.S. administrators and the Iraqi Governing Council had told him Jan. 19 that the July 1 date was firm “but that beyond that we could really come up with options that they can look at, and that can help them establish a provisional government.”

Mr. Boucher is holding fast to the deadline.

“Our actions, our planning is all designed to make this transfer of power work on June 30th, as planned,” he said. “So as the U.N. looks at this situation, they understand that that’s a goal that we all want to achieve.”

He said Mr. Annan had said during talks Tuesday in Washington that “he might have some ideas on the June 30th date, so we will have to see what they are.”

Three U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States was looking to the United Nations to help end the dispute in Iraq over U.S. postwar plans but not to assume control of the process.

While the White House was open to some changes in its plan to select an interim assembly through a complex system of caucuses, the June 30 deadline is firm, they said.

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