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Iraq: As Donor Meeting Looms, U.S. Calls Security Council Vote On Resolution

  • Robert McMahon

UN Security Council members are due today to vote on a resolution to endorse Iraq's path to political transition and reconstruction. Late-night negotiations on the latest U.S. draft ended with the United States rejecting recommendations by France, Russia, and Germany to provide a specific timeline for the handover of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqi authorities. The resolution is expected to be adopted, but without full support from all 15 Council members. The vote comes ahead of a key international donor conference on Iraq.

United Nations, 15 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A final series of negotiations among key UN Security Council states ended late last night with the United States refusing to add a specific timeline for U.S.-led authorities to relinquish power in Iraq.

The latest U.S. draft resolution on Iraq sets only one date -- a 15 December deadline for the Iraqi Governing Council to provide a timetable on a constitution and elections. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, speaking after the late-night talks, said, "We think the rest has to await developments on the ground rather than trying to artificially set a deadline here in New York."

Negroponte also called for the vote on the resolution to be held today. He said the United States wants a vote before President George W. Bush leaves for Asia tomorrow. The resolution is still expected to be adopted, but without the broad approval that would have signaled a restoration of Council unity that has so far been absent from discussions on Iraq.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier in the day he hoped the United States would work "to get as broad support as possible, because I have always maintained that the Council is at its best and has the greatest impact when it is united." The timetable had been a key demand in amendments put forward yesterday by France, Germany, and Russia seeking to clarify the process in which the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority would transfer power to Iraqis.

Before the final negotiations, Russia's Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the draft was moving in the right direction.

"The sponsors clearly indicated that they envisage a process whereby, before the responsibilities of the Authority end and before the government is elected in Iraq, there would be [an] evolution of responsibilities on the ground, so we want this concept to be spelled out clearer," Lavrov said.

The Russian, French, and German delegations had already made a major concession by dropping a demand for a handover of sovereignty to Iraqi provisional authorities within months. But even their revised recommendations -- which included a call for an explicit Council role in establishing a timeline for the handover -- met with U.S. resistance.

The United States instead kept its original text, which calls on the coalition "to return governing responsibilities and authorities to the people of Iraq as soon as practicable."

The Associated Press reported that French, Russian, and German diplomats privately expressed disappointment over the development, but refused to speak publicly until the latest draft had been fully circulated. The resolution is expected to get at least the minimum nine "yes" votes needed for adoption. But the U.S. rejection of yesterday's timeline amendments calls into question how many other members -- if any -- will support the resolution.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, whose country has been noncommittal on the U.S. proposals, signaled a need for further revisions.

"We hope that the consultations that will take place, both inside the Council and on the margins, will enable further improvements to be made to the draft so that the Council could support it unanimously," Akram said.

The support of Pakistan is especially vital, because -- in addition to being a nonpermanent Security Council member -- it is considering whether to contribute troops to peacekeeping in Iraq. The U.S. is anxious to bolster its own commitments in Iraq by getting more countries to contribute troops and money. The U.S. draft resolution would bring those troops currently deployed in Iraq into a UN-authorized multinational force, still to be commanded by the United States.

The U.S. and other Council members were also hoping broad support for the resolution would send a signal of international unity on Iraq ahead of next week's donor conference in Madrid on 23-24 October.

UN and World Bank officials who have been analyzing Iraq's reconstruction needs say they have received fairly strong interest from donor nations. The UN Development Program's assistant administrator, Julia Taft, said yesterday that 45 countries are expected to attend the donor conference and contribute about $2 billion for Iraqi reconstruction needs next year.

Taft said the World Bank and United Nations were completing work on a new fund that will be outside the control of the coalition. Taft says this meets the needs of a number of donors not interested in contributing to the coalition-led Iraq Development Fund.

"I think that most of the donors want to go in a non-development-fund-for-Iraq approach where it's not run by the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] and therefore they would choose to support the UN or the World Bank directly. We think that most of the people who show up are going to make a pledge, or they probably wouldn't show up," Taft said.

The World Bank, the UN, and the International Monetary Fund have estimated Iraqi needs for 14 priority areas at about $36 billion for the period 2004-2007.

The World Bank's program coordinator for Iraq, Nicholas Krafft, said nearly every indicator for living standards in the country fell sharply in the past 20 years under Saddam Hussein's regime. Krafft said Iraq was facing the added challenge of trying to convert to a free market from a centrally planned economy reminiscent of Eastern Europe under communism.

"We have essentially two things going on at the same time now which actually make it quite complicated," he said. "One is a transition of an economy from an Eastern Europe-type economy towards a market economy. Bear in mind that in some senses this has some similarities with Albania, because the economy was essentially closed for the last 10 years or so. Plus we have the reconstruction of 20 years of neglect," Krafft said.

In addition to the UN-World Bank assessment, the coalition estimates Iraq will need nearly $20 billion during the next four years to rebuild sectors not covered in their report. Those areas include security, oil industry reconstruction, drug control, crime-fighting, and cultural programs.

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