- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council gave a resounding 15-0 endorsement today to a U.S. resolution backing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq’s new government 14 months after the fall of Saddam Hussein. President Bush predicted the measure would instill democracy and be a “catalyst for change” in the Middle East.

France and Germany dropped their objections after the resolution included a last-minute compromise giving Iraqi leaders control over the activities of their own troops and a say on “sensitive offensive operations” by the multinational force - such as the controversial siege of Fallujah. But the measure stops short of granting the Iraqis a veto over major U.S.-led military operations.

The resolution spells out the powers and the limitations of the new interim Iraqi government that will assume power on June 30. It authorizes the U.S.-led multinational force to remain in Iraq to help ensure security but gives the Iraqi government the right to ask the force to leave at any time.

Bush claimed victory before the vote, telling reporters at the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga., that a unanimous approval would tell the world that the council nations “are interested in working together to make sure Iraq is free, peaceful and democratic.”

“These nations understand that a free Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East, which is an important part of winning the war on terror,” Bush said.

But his administration lowered expectations of gaining other countries’ military support - one of the original hopes behind the resolution. Four members of the Group of Eight summit - France, Germany, Russia and Canada - have said they won’t send troops to take the burden off the 138,000 American soldiers and the 24,000 troops from coalition partners.

Nevertheless, the adoption of the resolution will likely buy time for the new Iraqi government, boosting its international stature as it struggles to win acceptance and cope with a security crisis at home.

The interim government - put together by a U.N. envoy, the Americans and their Iraqi allies - hopes the vote will give it a legitimacy that eluded its predecessor, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. That legitimacy would put it in a better position to curry support among fellow Arab regimes and seek economic help from abroad.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted it would have a “positive impact” on security by removing the perception of the U.S.-led multinational force as an occupying power.

Although the resolution says the interim government will have authority to ask the force to leave, new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi indicated in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell that the force will remain at least until an elected transitional government takes power early next year.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said many French ideas were incorporated in the final text though Paris would have liked a clearer definition of the relationship between the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led force.

“That doesn’t stop us from a positive vote in New York to help in a constructive way find a positive exit to this tragedy,” he told France-Inter radio.

Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, meeting in Washington with Powell, brushed off any suggestion that there might be disagreement between U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

“We are working together,” al-Yawer told reporters. “These people are in our country to help us.”

He added: “We have to think proactive. We cannot afford to be pessimistic.”

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he hopes “that now there will finally be a stabilization of the security situation in Iraq.”

France and Germany had been among the sharpest critics in the Security Council of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.

On Tuesday, Barnier said that during the weeks of negotiations on the resolution “there was a real dialogue for the first time in this affair.”

“The Americans clearly understood, after months and months of military operations, that there was no way out by arms, by military operations in Iraq,” the foreign minister said.

“Washington understood that we have to get out of this tragedy by the high road.”

Many other council members who had objections to the early U.S.-British drafts also announced their support for the final resolution - the fifth since May 24. They included China, which had proposed major changes, and Algeria, the council’s only Arab member, which argued for greater Iraqi control over its own military and major operations by the multinational force.

“I hope that all council members will stand united,” said China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya. “This resolution will send several political messages, number one that the military occupation will come to an end. Secondly it will say that the Iraqi people will be granted full sovereignty. So I hope that this is a very good beginning for the Iraqis.”

The main compromise was an addition to the resolution summarizing Iraq’s “security partnership” with U.S.-led forces, spelled out in an exchange of letters between Allawi and Powell.

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