- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

GENEVA — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday dismissed as “totally unrealistic” a French proposal for a swift transition to a new Iraqi government by next spring, with the United Nations having the dominant role in the process.

As the foreign ministers of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent powers gather here today for a wide-ranging discussion on the U.N.’s role in Iraq, Mr. Powell issued a blunt condemnation of a plan floated by his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin.

The de Villepin plan, outlined yesterday in the French newspaper Le Monde, calls for a new constitution for Iraq by this fall and the restoration of full sovereignty to an Iraqi government in six months.

The program, which is in response to a U.S. draft resolution on Iraq now before the Security Council, would relegate the U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority to a subordinate role in the political and economic reconstruction of the country.

The French plan is “totally unrealistic,” Mr. Powell told reporters in a briefing aboard his plane last night before landing in this Swiss city.

“You would like it if one could do it, but one can’t do it.”

Although Mr. Powell said he believed a French veto of the Iraq resolution was still unlikely, the sharp disagreement sets up a potential replay of this spring’s bitter divisions on the Security Council over the Bush administration’s determination to oust Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

Germany, Russia and China have also expressed reservations over the U.S. draft text, which encourages the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to create a blueprint for eventual sovereignty and also would give the Security Council’s blessing to the multinational force under U.S. control now keeping the peace in Iraq.

Mr. Powell said the United Nations lacked the staff and resources to oversee the huge military and economic rehabilitation work in Iraq, while the U.S. military and the coalition authority under L. Paul Bremer are already working on an orderly path to ultimate Iraqi sovereignty.

“It’s easy to toss out nice theories about sovereignty, liberation and occupation,” Mr. Powell said. “But in practice, it can’t be done in [the French] time frame.”

French officials say they envision a transition for Iraq along the lines of Afghanistan, where a U.N. political administration worked with a U.S. military coalition to quickly create an Afghan government. French President Jacques Chirac said he worries that the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq has taken on the look of an “occupation” resented by the Iraqis.

Mr. Powell meets separately this morning with ministers from the other four permanent members of the Security Council — France, Russia, China and Britain. The five then will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who convened the meeting in hopes of easing some of the intense strains brought on by the Iraq war.

Mr. Powell also will meet with Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the Iraqi governing authority.

U.S. officials say the new resolution is an easier sell than the resolution to authorize force in Iraq. All the Security Council powers, Mr. Powell noted, share the goal of a expedited return of control in Iraq to an Iraqi authority, with the biggest point of contention the role of the United Nations and the Coalition Provisional Authority in the process.

He said U.S. officials believe there is already a needed nine-vote supermajority in the Security Council for the new Iraqi resolution, so long as none of the five permanent members issues a veto.

Mr. Powell also expressed optimism that the U.N. resolution would encourage hesitant nations to contribute new forces to the troubled U.S.-led peacekeeping operation in Iraq, despite the comment by a senior Indian military official that India may not be able to contribute troops because of its campaign against separatist forces in Kashmir.

The Bush administration had hoped India would be a major contributor to the peacekeeping force if the new U.N. mandate for the military operation was approved.

Mr. Powell said he had received no official notice from India’s government about its role in Iraq, and said India would have to make its political decisions once the U.N. resolution was in place.

He said other countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh still could contribute to what is hoped to be an extra 15,000 troops in Iraq from international sources.

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