- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Bush administration said yesterday it expects up to “three handfuls of countries” to send troops to Iraq once the United Nations endorses the transfer of power to Iraqis on June 30, but winning a Security Council resolution appeared far from a done deal.

Russia, France and other council members said they want Iraqis to have “real” sovereignty, with a major say in their future, before they support the resolution.

That demand is in contrast with Washington’s view that the interim government will have to give some of its sovereignty back to the U.S.-led force, so it can continue to provide security in the country.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials were optimistic that a successful outcome at the United Nations will be negotiated.

“A lot of us are reasonably convinced that if we can get another U.N. Security Council resolution, which we believe we can, that it would assist in getting maybe one or two handfuls of countries to add troops that have thus far not felt they could do so,” Mr. Rumsfeld told American servicemen and women in Baghdad during a surprise visit yesterday.

He later revised his estimate to “three handfuls of nations that have capabilities to bring forces in.” He added that 33 countries currently have troops in Iraq.

“To the extent that we can further internationalize it and get those countries feeling they have a commitment in the success of Iraq and the success of this important effort, that’s good,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

He noted that any addition of troops would not “change our circumstance … greatly, except that it would obviously relieve pressure on the coalition countries, including the United States.”

The secretary also indicated that some Security Council members want two resolutions, which was confirmed by diplomats in New York.

They said Russia has proposed that the first resolution endorse the new government before June 30 but after U.N. special envoy Lahkdar Brahimi presents a plan for the body’s formation. A draft is not expected until Mr. Brahimi returns from his trip to Iraq.

The second document — addressing security issues, including the continued presence of the multinational force — would not be adopted until the government has taken office, so it can participate fully in the decision-making process.

Russia also has suggested holding a conference, similar to a 2002 forum after the Taliban was ousted from Afghanistan, to engage more countries, including Iraq’s neighbors, into the transition process, rather than just the big powers. But the idea has not gained support.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters in Brussels on Monday that the resolution must define in detail “the framework for the transfer and the political reconstruction of Iraq.”

“We are trying to persuade the Americans to agree to a real transfer of sovereignty,” he said, adding that a new Iraqi government “must have its say on security matters.”

In a confusing testimony before the House International Relations Committee yesterday, Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, first seemed to suggest that the U.S. forces would leave Iraq if asked by the new government but later said they would not.

The Security Council held a second informal meeting on Wednesday to discuss its plans.

Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, this month’s council president, said his country was “pragmatic on exactly how it is done as long as the transfer is made, it is legal and it is acceptable to the Iraqi people.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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