- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is not ready with the lineup of an interim Iraqi government and may not meet a self-imposed May 31 deadline for naming its members, U.S. and U.N. officials said yesterday.

The Bush administration also made clear that all of Mr. Brahimi’s candidates will be approved by the United States before their names are announced.

Mr. Brahimi’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, acknowledged that the release of a full slate of names may be delayed into the first week of June, but insisted that the delay would have little effect on the transition.

“We don’t have a definite date yet,” he said. “Maybe late May, maybe early June. May ends on Monday and early June starts on Tuesday, so we hope by then, by next week, to have the final list.”

Speaking by telephone from Baghdad, where Mr. Brahimi has been consulting with scores of religious, political and tribal leaders in the past three weeks, Mr. Fawzi said, “There have been no hiccups, and there is no deadline set in stone.”

As of yesterday afternoon, he said, there was not even a shortlist of possible candidates.

But a few hours later, Mr. Brahimi’s office in Iraq issued a statement saying that recommendations for positions in the new government will be made “very soon.”

U.S. officials said an announcement could be made in the middle of next week. That will most likely be done in Baghdad, after which Mr. Brahimi will fly to New York to brief the U.N. Security Council.

Asked whether Washington would veto anyone on the list it does not like, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that White House envoy Robert Blackwill, who is working alongside Mr. Brahimi, and L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, would make sure no undesirable figures were chosen.

“I think you’re raising hypotheticals that just won’t occur, because we have been working with [Mr. Brahimi] along the way in this process. Ambassador Blackwill, Ambassador Bremer are both out in Baghdad; they too are having discussions with Iraqis, but they are also keeping in touch with Ambassador Brahimi,” Mr. Boucher said.

“They’ve been comparing notes, sharing ideas, and so I don’t expect that kind of circumstance to arise,” he said. “I don’t expect us to have any differences one way or the other with him on this.”

U.S. and U.N. officials also insisted that a prime minister has not yet been chosen and called reports naming nuclear scientist Hussain Shahristani as the final choice for prime minister “incorrect” and “speculative.”

“Our understanding is that there is nothing nailed down, that nobody has been chosen,” Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Bremer’s spokesman, Dan Senor, said in Baghdad that reports about Mr. Shahristani are “incorrect” and denied any choice had been made.

Officials acknowledged that Mr. Shahristani is among three or four finalists but warned against premature conclusions about the ultimate choice.

“That is purely speculative. That kind of speculation is not helpful to the process that is under way and we shall not join in it,” said Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But Mr. Brahimi’s office noted that Mr. Shahristani “could serve his country well in a number of positions in government.”

“Mr. Brahimi confirms that he has met Mr. Hussain Shahristani on a number of occasions. He thinks very highly of him [and] values his advice,” the office said. “Mr. Shahristani, however, has himself clarified that he would prefer to serve his country in other ways.”

Mr. Brahimi is expected to name a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and 26 Cabinet members.

“The talks are continuing and the discussions continue,” Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi said in Baghdad. “We do not expect the new government to be announced before the end of the month.”

But even if Mr. Brahimi does not lay out the names of the new government and Cabinet by May 31, “it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

Mr. Pachachi, who returned from exile to join the governing council, acknowledged there was a lot of political and personal wrangling over who would be on Mr. Brahimi’s list. “It’s a tug of war,” he said.

Mr. Shahristani, a Shi’ite, was chief of the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission until he was arrested in 1979 after, he says, refusing to help Saddam Hussein build a nuclear weapon. Mr. Shahristani escaped when the U.S. military bombed the Abu Ghraib prison during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and fled to Jordan.

The Security Council met yesterday afternoon for private discussions of the U.S.-British draft resolution endorsing the transition to a sovereign, elected government.

Several key members expressed concern with the text, saying it limits the legitimacy and authority of the interim government, particularly regarding control of Iraq’s armed forces and their relationship with the U.S.-led multinational force.

China, France, Germany, Russia and Chile were among those who called for giving more explicit authority to the interim government.

Several countries suggested that the multinational force should be phased out after a finite period, perhaps six months after new elections. That could be extended, however, at the request of the new Iraqi government. China also wants to see a more robust mandate for U.N. activities in the reconstruction process.

“The mandate for the U.N. to go back should be clear and workable,” said Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya. “If not, you are imposing a ‘mission impossible’ on them.”

• Sharon Behn contributed to this report from Baghdad. Betsy Pisik reported from New York.

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