Annan said after a meeting of UN diplomats that the 30 June handover timeline should be respected: "We shared with them our sense of the emerging consensus or understanding that elections cannot be held before the end of June, that the June 30th date for handover of sovereignty must be respected, and that we need to find a mechanism to create a caretaker government and then help prepare the elections some time later in the future."
He also said the United Nations is preparing recommendations about how to establish an interim Iraqi government before elections can be held.
The secretary-general told the meeting this morning that he will recommend a transitional governing mechanism that enjoys the broadest support of Iraqi groups.
Annan's comments come after he met with his senior envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, and representatives of 46 states interested in Iraq's reconstruction.
Annan stressed that his recommendations on direct elections and the power transfer reflect the feelings of a range of Iraqi groups that met with Brahimi last week. The secretary-general told the meeting this morning that he will recommend a transitional governing mechanism that enjoys the broadest support of Iraqi groups.
Brahimi told reporters that the United Nations is willing to play a guiding role throughout the process. "The United Nations will be resuming its work to help the political process, first of all, up to the 30th of June and then after the 30th of June when sovereignty will be restored in Iraq."
U.S. officials asked the United Nations to come up with proposals for Iraq's political future after Shi'a leaders rejected original U.S. plans for a series of regional caucuses.
Annan stressed in his meeting today that the UN must retain a clear, separate identity and be seen by the Iraqi people as independent.
The U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said today that regardless of how an Iraqi government is chosen, coalition forces will remain in place until Iraqi security forces are ready to protect the country.
"So, the major change that happens on June 30th is that the Coalition Authority passes sovereignty back to the Iraqi government, the occupation ends, and coalition forces are no longer occupying forces," he said. "They are in partnership with the Iraqi people to protect Iraqi security."
Bremer also said the Iraqi constitution should acknowledge the Islamic nature of Iraq, but stressed that it not be based solely on Shari'a, or Islamic law. Instead, he said, it should be founded on secular principles that guarantee rights recognized in liberal democracies.
"We said we seek a representative and sovereign Iraqi government. That government should be bound by a transitional administrative law that protects fundamental rights and provides a stable political structure. Under that law, Iraqis will enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religious belief and practice," he said.
UN diplomats say Brahimi favors a relatively short period between the handover of power and elections, with nationwide balloting possibly late this year.