Bremer will press UN on larger role

Posted in Broader Middle East , Iraq , UN , Asia | 17-Jan-04 | Author: John Cushman| Source: International Herald Tribune

U.S. aide and Iraqis expected to seek support for plan on power transfer

BAGHDAD - L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the administrator of the occupying authority in Iraq, was leaving Thursday for Washington to consult with the White House before a meeting on Monday at the United Nations. There, both the United States and the Iraqis it has temporarily installed in office will press for a significant United Nations role in support of their plan for a rapid handover of sovereignty. The meeting, called by Secretary General Kofi Annan and attended by leaders of the American-backed interim Iraqi Governing Council as well as the Americans, will be the first significant, high-level negotiations between the parties to discuss the mechanics of selecting a new legislative body for Iraq by this summer.

That selection is a crucial step in the handover of power at the end of June that the Iraqi council and the American-led occupation authorities agreed to in November. Senior officials of President George W. Bush’s administration will probably also join the talks in New York, according to an official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by Bremer. Both American and Iraqi officials said Thursday that they would seek specific pledges of help from the UN, with its expertise in holding elections in frail new democracies, both before and after the June 30 handover that they are planning. The United States has resisted any suggestion that the UN should be a controlling authority over the transfer of power, but it has increasingly come to recognize the support that the UN can offer both in putting democratic systems in place and resisting a headlong rush to direct elections. The UN, for its part, is wary of assuming a major role, having largely withdrawn its personnel from Iraq after a truck bomb demolished its headquarters in Baghdad in August. Both Iraqi and American officials now appear to think that a significant United Nations role would not only give the process legitimacy in the eyes of the world, but might also defuse opposition among some Iraqis, including leaders of the majority Shiite sect, who favor direct elections over the current plan. In Basra, Iraq’s largest southern city, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched Thursday to support calls by Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for direct elections to choose a new government, rather than the indirect and incremental approach devised by the occupation authorities and the interim council. The people of Basra are overwhelmingly Shiites, as are the majority of Iraq’s population. As Bremer was getting ready to leave, the current head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, said the council was eager to see the UN play a prominent role in the tricky transition to democracy.

But in an apparent bid to mollify critics in Iraq, he added that members of the council, too, would like to see ‘‘improvements’’ in the mechanics of selecting the legislature, even if direct elections cannot be held in such a short time, as many Iraqis would prefer. Annan has said he agrees with the U.S. view that it would not be possible to hold valid elections in a few months. ‘‘If the United Nations is unable or unwilling to play a big role, that would be a matter of great regret for us,’’ Pachachi said.

But he suggested that, given the difficult choice between a quick handover of power this summer and waiting for full, direct elections, Iraqis would prefer the quicker alternative. ‘‘The choice for us is, either we keep this date and settle for something less than elections, which we all want, or we accept a delay of the whole thing for two years,’’ he said. ‘‘But I want to tell you this: The Iraqi people would be extremely disappointed and frustrated’’ by such a delay.

As Bremer prepared to fly to Washington, an official at his Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters said it was not yet clear what role the United Nations might play. ‘‘The bottom line is this: We want the UN to be involved here in some way,’’ he said. Bremer is to meet with other administration officials, possibly including Bush, at the White House on Friday, and the administration will decide soon whether Secretary of State Colin Powell or some other senior official should attend the talks at the United Nations next week. The New York Times UN surprised but pleased Warren Hoge of The New York Times reported from the United Nations in New York: Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Secretary General Annan, said the organization had not been directly informed that Bremer was coming to New York on Monday but had noted the news reports with satisfaction. ‘‘If the news reports are true, the Secretary General will be very pleased,’’ he said, noting that the dispatching of Bremer represented the ‘‘maximal’’ rep resentation the Americans could have produced. Annan first issued his invitation on Dec. 18 to hold three-way talks next week between the Iraqi Governing Council, the Coalition Provisional Authority and himself. The Iraqis agreed immediately to send a delegation, but the United States balked at saying whether coalition provisional authority members would be attending. Pressed repeatedly on the point in recent days, the American ambassador, John Negroponte, would say only that the United States would send ‘‘appropriate representation.’’ The United States has been urging Annan to send back into Iraq the international staff workers whom he ordered out in October after the bombing of the organization’s headquarters in August in which 22 people died and subsequent attacks on relief workers and diplomats. Annan has replied that he needed more assurances that they would be safe and clearer guidelines on what their duties would be if they returned to Baghdad before the June 30 end of the occupation. He called the meeting scheduled for Monday last month to take up those questions. The United States has been reluctant to open up the political timetable in Iraq to the scrutiny of members of the Security Council, which blocked United Nations approval of military action in Iraq last year. Several ambassadors are known to have questions about the feasibility of meeting the June 30 date and about whether the emerging government will be fully representative. One member of the Iraqi delegation, Mahdi Hafedh, the minister of planning and development, is scheduled to brief Security Council members on the situation in Iraq late Monday. The Security Council president, Heraldo Muñoz, the ambassador of Chile, said Wednesday that the ambassadors would be ‘‘able to ask anything they deem appropriate.’’