U.S. moves to secure support from Annan on Iraqi transfer planUNITED NATIONS, New York The United States moved Friday to secure Secretary General Kofi Annan's public backing for the American plan to transfer authority to Iraqis this summer and to persuade him to send United Nations staff back to Baghdad promptly.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte was to meet with Annan late Friday after consultations in Washington to spell out what role the United Nations could play and what security guarantees the U.S.-led coalition could provide its diplomats and relief workers.
The United States is eager for the international imprimatur a UN presence in Iraq would give the coalition forces there but has resisted Annan's repeated demands for "clarity" over exactly what its workers would be asked to do and how safe they would be from the sort of attacks that drove the organization out of Iraq this fall.
Individual Iraqi leaders have been seeking UN intervention in the current transition plan, actions that have alarmed Washington. The plan is a Nov. 15 agreement calling for regional caucuses leading to the naming of a provisional Iraqi government by June 30.
They would like to see elections occur before that date, but Annan, in a gesture welcomed by the United States, sent word Thursday night that elections could not be organized so hastily and added that the United Nations would not intrude on the timing or the arrangements for future security.
Annan's rejection of these pleas came in a response to a Dec. 28 letter from Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a leading Shiite Muslim who served as the rotating president of the Iraqi Governing Council last month.
The United States was pleased with Annan's action. It had been concerned about complaints from the Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani that Washington's plans for the transitional government did not insure the broad representation of Iraqis that direct elections would.
"We view any reference by the Secretary General to support the Nov. 15 agreement as a good thing," said a State Department official.
The session Friday between Negroponte and Annan was also intended to establish ground rules for a Jan. 19 meeting in New York with members of the Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority.
The Governing Council has agreed to send three members - Hakim, the December president, Adnan Pachachi, the current one, and Massoud Barzani, next month's designee - but there has been no response yet from the Coalition Provisional Authority. UN officials have been frustrated by the American refusal to promise any participation by coalition officials. Coming at a time when relations between the United States and the United Nations are tense at best, the action is being increasingly viewed at United Nations headquarters as a snub. The invitation in late December was originally extended by Annan directly to President George W. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and United Nations officials say it was reinforced in conversations over the holiday period between Annan and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Britain, America's principal ally in Iraq, has appeared more disposed to take up Annan's invitation and is sending Sir Jeremy Greenstock, its envoy to Iraq and its former ambassador to the United Nations. Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's current United Nations ambassador, was to accompany Negroponte to the meeting Friday with Annan. The Bush administration is reluctant to open up the transition process in Iraq to the scrutiny of the Security Council, some of whose members opposed the war and last year stood in the way of UN approval of military action. The Americans are wary at word that Annan scheduled the monthly lunch of the 15 Security Council members for the same day as the proposed Jan. 19 meeting and suggested that the visitors from Iraq would be invited to sit in. But an ambassador of one of the five permanent Security Council member countries said in an interview that the American worry was misplaced. "Yes, we had strong differences then, but we are all now united in the desire to bring peace and stability to Iraq," he said. He added, however, that his country had reservations about whether the Nov. 15 plan would produce a sufficiently representative transitional government and whether the June 30 deadline would be met.