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UN: Security Council Powers To Focus On Iraqi Political Transition

  • Robert McMahon

Foreign ministers of the five veto-wielding UN Security Council states meet in Geneva tomorrow to try to narrow differences over the international community's role in Iraq. The "permanent five," as they are known, have clashed repeatedly over the war in Iraq and have offered different proposals for turning over power to Iraqis. But in one key development this week, there is now apparent consensus that the Iraqi Governing Council is the country's legitimate interim representative.

United Nations, 12 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The top diplomats from the five permanent UN Security Council states meet tomorrow to seek ways of overcoming differences over who should play the dominant political role in restoring sovereignty to Iraq.

Their meeting in Geneva -- called by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- comes amid signs of agreement over the status of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

A U.S. draft resolution circulated last week calls for the Security Council to authorize the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq under UN auspices. It also invites the Iraqi Governing Council to submit a timetable for creating a new constitution and holding elections.

France and Germany, a nonpermanent Security Council member, say that in exchange for authorizing the force under U.S. command, the role of the United Nations must be strengthened. They have proposed amendments calling for the United States to cede most of its control over the political transition to the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Russia has also proposed amendments to the resolution that would expand the UN's role. It calls for the mandate of the multinational force to last one year, subject to renewal.

U.S. President George W. Bush said this week that he's open to suggestions from the other permanent Security Council members for "fine-tuning" the resolution. Yesterday in Washington, he reiterated his belief that other nations have a responsibility to assist in the stabilization of Iraq. "The key thing for the United Nations resolution [on Iraq] is it will hopefully encourage other nations to participate," he said. "I think other nations have an obligation to participate. A free Iraq will be in their nation's benefit. It will make the world more peaceful, and more secure."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that all parties share the goal of returning responsibilities to the Iraqis. "So, we'll be going to Geneva in that spirit -- that we share the same objective and that we want to work together with our counterparts in the permanent five, as well as with the secretary-general, to identify the various ways that we can all help build the Iraqi institutions and have them take more and more authority," Boucher said.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday there is a need for a change of "logic" in the U.S. approach. Instead of a stress on peacekeeping contributions, he said, there needs to be a broader political strategy in which the international community would oversee a swift transfer of authority to the Iraqi people.

On one key point, all Security Council proposals agree -- the Iraqi Governing Council should be the country's legitimate interim authority. At issue now is the speed with which the coalition should transfer authority to Iraqi officials and the extent of the UN's role in that transition.

The French-German proposal calls on the coalition to quickly transfer administrative authority to the Iraqi Governing Council. Without listing specifics, it asks UN experts to help the Governing Council develop a timetable for the establishment of a fully representative Iraqi government.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday it is too early to say whether the proposals circulating this week indicate a convergence of views. "These discussions among member states are very preliminary. Any pieces of paper that might be circulating have no official status," he said.

Annan earlier this week said he called the meeting to prod the Security Council toward consensus "that will accelerate the return to stability and the early restoration of Iraqi national sovereignty."

He is also expected to urge the Security Council to provide a clear mandate for UN officials. Annan has said the previous Security Council resolution laying out the terms of occupation gave what he called a "fuzzy" mandate to the UN.

Top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was asserting UN influence in the political process before his death in last month's terrorist bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad.

A senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, met Annan yesterday in Geneva. He said afterward that greater UN involvement would give more legitimacy to Iraq's political reform effort and would be more acceptable to Iraqis.

David Malone is president of the International Peace Academy and an expert on Security Council affairs. He told RFE/RL that it appears Washington will need to give its consent to a lead role for the United Nations in the political development of Iraq in the coming months. "[The U.S.] will remain in firm control of the military leadership in Iraq and is likely also to dominate economic reconstruction. But the third pillar, the political pillar, is one the UN is much better placed to lead on than the United States and on which allied governments and other members of the international community are likely to insist," Malone said.

The Geneva meeting comes 10 days before Bush's scheduled address to the UN General Assembly. It is expected that U.S. officials will try to reach agreement on a new resolution during the first week of the assembly debate, which is attended by many heads of state and government. A crucial international donor's conference on Iraq is set for late October in Madrid.

Malone said the Security Council members meeting in Geneva need to reach consensus soon on the proper approach in Iraq. "It seems to me that it's important and urgent for the international community, particularly the permanent five, to tune their fiddles, come into agreement and come up with a hopeful message for Iraqis," he said.

Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, said the Iraqi Governing Council hopes soon to claim Iraq's seat at the United Nations. UN officials said yesterday that there had been no recent moves in the General Assembly's credentials committee to recognize an Iraqi representative.

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