Speaking this morning after a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the EU's foreign-policy chief Javier Solana sidestepped questions relating to the controversy over the selection procedure.
Instead, he said, the UN Security Council must now act quickly to provide the new government with full international legitimacy: "We are pleased to see that a government has been established. We want to welcome the good job that was done by [UN special envoy] Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi in cooperation with other persons. We want to say also that we hope the Security Council will come out with a resolution that will be constructive and positive, that will allow what is the aim and objective of all of us -- to have devolution of the sovereignty to the people of Iraq so that they can find stability and prosperity."
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a new resolution enjoying the unanimous support of the Security Council is key to turning around largely skeptical Iraqi public opinion. The official said Solana told Armitage that a "vigorous" debate is needed in the Security Council to show the new Iraqi government enjoys international -- and not just U.S. -- support.
At a news conference after the meeting with Armitage, Solana played down fears that the Iraqi public opinion might reject the new government: "I think as soon as [the new government] begins to work -- and the people in Iraq begin to see that to have a new government is a positive thing, to really have sovereignty -- [then] probably the spirit of the people will change."
The EU source said Armitage had been keen to counter suggestions that the new government emerged as a result of a mere reshuffle of the Iraqi Governing Council. Armitage also highlighted the carefully monitored ethnic balance in the new government, which comprises Shi'as, Sunnis, Kurds, and others.
The EU official said Solana had asked Armitage for clarification on key aspects in the current debate in the UN Security Council. The official said Solana was most concerned about the future relationship between the command of the Multinational Force (MNF) -- formerly the occupation force -- and Iraq's armed forces.
Speaking at the news conference, Armitage said the relationship would be set out both in the UN Security Council resolution and a pair of letters exchanged between the new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and the U.S. representative at the Security Council.
Armitage said Iraq will have full solidarity, although some details will have to be worked out "on the ground."
"The multinational force mandate will be addressed following general language," Armitage said. "There will be a provision in the resolution for a mandatory review after 12 months, or sooner if the interim Iraqi government were to ask for it. So I think that will be handled. Regarding whether Iraqis could refuse to participate in an operation or not, of course if they're a sovereign government, they'd have to be able to refuse. But these are the kind of things that are worked out on the ground between the MNF commander and the sovereign [Iraqi] government."
The EU source said the United States assumes at this stage that without an Iraqi request to terminate the MNF mandate, the extension of its mandate will be "automatic."
The source also said Armitage had made it clear that U.S. forces will retain the right to act independently in situations where the lives of American soldiers are at risk.