- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

GENEVA — The United States and other big powers of the U.N. Security Council failed yesterday to break a deadlock over Iraq, but participants said they were optimistic differences could be resolved during upcoming negotiations in New York.

The one-day meeting of foreign ministers called by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan came off without the acrimony that split the Security Council prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq last spring.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called the discussions “open, candid and frank.”

“I will leave this meeting encouraged with the points of convergence but also recognizing that there are some difficulties and differences that have to be worked out,” Mr. Powell said.

He spoke at a joint news conference with representatives of Britain, China, France and Russia following a two-hour-plus afternoon session in an ornate chamber of the old headquarters of the League of Nations, the United Nation’s ill-fated predecessor. The five nations have veto power in the 15-nation Security Council.

Mr. Powell said he remained opposed to a French proposal to speed up the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and complete a hand-over of power from coalition forces by the spring of 2004.

“The worst thing a person could do is set [the new Iraqi government] up for failure,” Mr. Powell said, adding that he considered the French timetable too fast given the uncertain security and economic environment in Iraq.

Following the session, Mr. Powell flew to Kuwait, where he arrived early this morning with plans to head to Baghdad and meet with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

The Geneva meeting occurred amid a U.S. push to broaden the United Nation’s role in Iraq and attract additional peacekeeping troops and funding from other nations.

Opposition within the Security Council, especially France, forced the United States and Britain to go to war to oust Saddam Hussein without U.N. backing.

Yesterday, the foreign ministers sought to emphasize the positive.

Asked if France was prepared to use its Security Council veto against the latest U.S. proposal, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin sidestepped the question.

“We are here … to try and find solutions, not to create new problems,” he said.

At stake is a proposed U.N. resolution that would expand the international peacekeeping force in Iraq under an American commander. U.N. backing is needed before several key nations, including Turkey, Pakistan and India, will send peacekeeping troops.

The American-backed proposal also calls on the Iraqi Governing Council to propose its own blueprint toward eventual sovereignty instead of having outside powers dictate a timetable.

The French proposal calls for a provisional Iraqi government and a constitution for Iraq by the end of the year, with elections for a new government with full sovereignty within six months.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the meetings “cordial.”

“There’s a clear consensus that whatever the disagreements about the rightness or otherwise of the military action, the whole of the international community recognizes its responsibility to the Iraqis and to the United Nations,” he said.

French officials said privately that Mr. de Villepin’s plan remains on the table for discussion, despite the U.S. objections.

U.S. officials say the French timetable is not only too rigid but that it also fails to recognize the central role and work already done by CPA and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council, met with Mr. Annan and with all of the delegations in Geneva.

“I did not expect there would be agreement on a draft resolution,” Mr. Pachachi said. But he added that he was encouraged by the tone of the discussions.

Mr. Pachachi, a former Iraqi Foreign Minister, said the hope is to have a constitution by April next year “drafted by Iraqis.”

Russia, China and Germany, which like France did not support the Iraq war, have all expressed reservations about a U.S. draft resolution now before the Security Council.

On the sidelines of the Geneva meeting, diplomats from the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — the so-called “quartet” — met to discuss the crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The meeting produced an agreement for Mr. Powell and other senior quartet ministers to get together in New York the week of the U.N. General Assembly gathering beginning Sept. 22.

John Zarocostas in Geneva contributed to this report.

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