A briefing yesterday by representatives of the U.S.-led authority governing Iraq provided the first occasion to respond to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report on Iraqi elections.
There was general agreement on the report's main finding -- that proper elections cannot be staged in time for the 30 June transfer of power and will require eight months of preparation. Many representatives stressed the need for the transition plan to reflect the wishes of a broad range of Iraqis. With an array of proposals already under consideration, they said the UN should have a key role in shaping a consensus among disparate Iraqi groups.
In Baghdad yesterday, Shi'a and Sunni members of the Iraqi Governing Council also signaled the need for the UN to help broker a political agreement.
Annan's report said some Iraqis favor expanding the Governing Council to 150 members. It said there is also support for a national conference in which a broad range of Iraqis could try to agree on the principles for a provisional national unity government.
Ambassador Gunter Pleuger of Germany, whose country has agreed to train Iraqi police in the United Arab Emirates, said many key issues must be resolved in a short period of time. "We feel that if all parties involved, including the Security Council, get it right now, there is still hope that with the crucial help of the United Nations in forging consensus among all Iraqis, we can contribute to the development of a stabilized and democratic Iraq," he said.
Algeria's UN ambassador, Abdallah Baali -- representing the only Arab country on the Security Council -- raised concern about the toll of terrorism on civilian lives. He called for better security measures by the coalition, but also appealed for a quick restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. "The sooner the Iraqi people recover full sovereignty and freely decide their destiny, the sooner they will again find peace, stability, and the path to progress," he said.
The comments followed generally upbeat briefings by Negroponte and British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry on the status of reconstruction efforts. They acknowledged the struggle against loyalists of the former regime and other insurgents. But they emphasized steady progress in rebuilding the country.
Jones Parry said Iraq still faces a massive rebuilding job, but that its gains have been undeniable. "Decades of oppression will not be undone overnight, but already the efforts that we have undertaken in partnership with Iraq's creative and talented people are making a real difference," he said.
Some areas of possible friction remain in the Security Council. Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov raised the issue of the still-active mandate of UN weapons inspectors for Iraq. Negroponte did not mention a role for UN inspectors in his briefing. He said specialists of the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group continue to search for weapons of mass destruction, interviewing Iraqi officials and analyzing documents and computer files.
The UN ambassador for France, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said the United Nations will need a clear mandate to guarantee its independence as its role expands in Iraq. He suggested a new Security Council resolution on Iraq could be necessary at a later date to support the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. "This question must be considered, at the right time, in a spirit of unity, with the sole objective of contributing to the successful transition and reconstruction in Iraq and help mobilize the international community to serve the Iraqi people," he said.
Negroponte said there is no immediate need for such a resolution but that it might have to be addressed in the future. Coalition officials have stressed that existing resolutions grant enough authority for an expanded UN role in Iraq.
(An overview of the briefing can be found at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/sc8006.doc.htm)