- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States and the Iraqi Governing Council want the United Nations to play an important role in speeding the handover of power to a provisional government in Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday.

But he stressed that the return of U.N. international staff to Baghdad is contingent on security, which is being assessed daily. Mr. Annan raised the possibility of the United Nations providing assistance from outside Iraq, or from more peaceful cities inside the country.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that the United States wants “the U.N. to play a role” in the transition and is open to a new Security Council resolution on Iraq. He did not elaborate.

Mr. Annan has called repeatedly for a quick handover of power to Iraqis to help stabilize the country. Yesterday he said he was “encouraged” by the Bush administration’s decision to speed the transition, proposing to establish a provisional government by June and an elected government before the end of 2005.

During the weekend, Mr. Annan said he discussed the plan with Mr. Powell, Britain’s Jeremy Greenstock, the coalition’s deputy administrator, and Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader who is this month’s president of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

Mr. Talabani, especially, expressed “the desire for the U.N. to play an active role,” Mr. Annan said.

Speaking at a State Department press conference with Mr. Powell, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the accelerated transition was “a very important step forward. We will do what we can to contribute to these positive developments.”

Germany, along with France, opposed the war to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, but appears to approve of the Bush administration’s new Iraq plan.

However, France’s foreign minister continued his criticism of the U.S. plan yesterday, saying it moves too slowly. He is pushing for a provisional Iraqi government to be in place by the end of the year.

“My feeling is that it’s too late. We are in an extremely urgent situation,” Dominique de Villepin told the daily Le Croix in an interview published yesterday.

Under the plan to which the coalition and the Governing Council agreed, representatives for a transitional assembly would be chosen at provincial meetings. The representatives would elect a provisional government by June.

U.N. diplomats said the process will need all the credibility it can get to give it legitimacy, and therefore the United Nations’ contribution could be important.

Mr. Annan ordered all Baghdad-based international staff to leave the country early this month after bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August and September and an upsurge in attacks afterward against humanitarian operations. U.N. staff still are operating in northern Iraq, but Mr. Annan indicated security conditions weren’t good enough for the return of U.N. staff to Baghdad.

Mr. Annan said he hopes to name a replacement “in the not too distant future” for the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the Aug. 19 attack along with 21 others.

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