- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

President Bush assured France yesterday that he will truly cede power to Iraqis on June 30, although he stopped short of granting the planned Iraqi government veto power over U.S. military operations.

One day after spelling out his vision for Iraq in a major policy speech, Mr. Bush sought to pacify jittery countries, such as France, Russia, Germany and China, who demanded changes to a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the transfer of authority.

The president’s task was complicated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who announced that the new Iraqi government would be able to veto military operations by U.S. forces after the turnover.

“If there’s a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government,” Mr. Blair said.

But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said U.S. forces “will do what is necessary to protect themselves.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan emphasized that when it comes to security, “We have experience in addressing these matters.”

He added: “The relationship between the interim government and the multinational force will be spelled out in a letter.”

France and Russia, however, want such relationships codified in the U.N. resolution. Mr. Bush promised French President Jacques Chirac that the United States would make “adjustments” to the document, Mr. McClellan said.

“What President Chirac and others have said is they want to make sure that the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government is a real transfer,” Mr. Bush said in the Oval Office.

“And that’s what we want,” he added. “We want there to be a complete and real transfer of sovereignty so that the Iraqi citizens realize the fate of their country is now their responsibility.”

Russia said the U.N. Security Council should not vote on a resolution until after the United States discloses more details about Iraq’s interim government. The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow issued a statement calling for “the swiftest reinstitution of Iraq’s sovereignty and an end to foreign occupation.”

Mr. Bush said he also wanted a swift turnover.

“What’s imperative is that the Iraqi citizens develop a constitution that they can call their own, a constitution written and approved by Iraqis,” he said.

“Our intention was never to have Iraq look like America,” he added. “Our intention is for Iraq to be free and stable and whole — at peace with its neighbors.”

Although the president did not directly address the notion of Iraqis’ vetoing U.S. military operations, Mr. Powell fielded a question on the sensitive topic at a joint press conference with Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.

“Obviously, we would take into account whatever they might say at a political and military level,” he said of the Iraqis.

He added: “Ultimately, however, if it comes down to the United States armed forces protecting themselves or in some way accomplishing their mission in a way that might not be in total consonance with what the Iraqi interim government might want to do at a particular moment in time, U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and would do whatever is necessary to protect themselves.”

Still, Mr. Powell appeared to leave open the possibility of granting veto authority to Iraqis.

“The actual details of how the forces will work together are being worked out now,” he said. “We’re confident that this will be manageable.

“We want to take into account the views of the Iraqi interim government,” he added. “They are sovereign, and so they have a role to play.”

The draft U.N. resolution, as currently worded, would authorize the U.S.-led multinational force to “use all necessary measures” to battle terrorists and maintain order in postwar Iraq.

“The resolution talks about how the multinational force will be in Iraq with the consent of the interim government,” Mr. McClellan said. “We will be there to work with Iraqi security forces.”

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