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Iraq: Prospects Dimming For Unified Security Council Vote

Prospects for a unified Security Council vote to redefine the reconstruction template for Iraq appear to be dimming. U.S. officials indicate they will not substantially move beyond their proposal to gradually hand over power to Iraqis. Council members that opposed the war are calling for a swift transfer of sovereignty. Otherwise, they are seen as likely to abstain from voting on the U.S. draft resolution.

United Nations, 8 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, says he has told Security Council members not to expect significant changes in the proposed U.S. resolution on Iraq.

Negroponte acknowledged the concerns of key council members about the pace of political transition envisioned by U.S. authorities, who are now administering Iraq. He said Washington also recognizes renewed UN security concerns following the 19 August bombing of its Baghdad headquarters.

But in comments to reporters yesterday, he stressed that U.S. officials believe the draft resolution accomplishes the shared goals of handing over authority to Iraqis and giving the UN a strong role.

"What I told the council members [on 6 October] was that if in the coming days we put forward a resolution in blue with the idea of bringing it to an early vote, that they shouldn't expect any significant or radical departures from the resolution that they have before them," he said.

Negroponte, who is the current president of the Security Council, said there are no meetings planned on the resolution at this point. But he added that the United States is eager to have the resolution passed ahead of a donors meeting in Madrid on 23-24 October.

Given the differences, the Security Council could be headed for a divided vote that would undermine the U.S. effort to broaden international contributions to the reconstruction of Iraq.

Diplomats have said France, Germany, and Russia would abstain if the resolution remained unchanged. Those states have called for the draft to outline an early restoration of sovereignty to Iraqis before they could support the resolution.

They point to last week's strong statements by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who raised concerns that the U.S. draft still assigns a marginal -- and risky -- political role to the UN. Annan favors a transfer of sovereignty to a provisional government within three to five months, after which work would begin on a constitution and elections. The United States wants the constitutional and electoral process to come first.

The spokesman for Germany's UN mission, Dirk Rotenberg, told RFE/RL that his government is still hopeful of changes to the resolution. "We had constructive consultations [on 6 October], and the council members are trying to reach a broad consensus among council members and would also like to see the concern of the secretary-general reflected in what's going to be the next version of the draft," he said.

Despite the reservations, Negroponte said the United States has no immediate plans to withdraw the resolution. But U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said withdrawing the measure remains an option. He stressed, however, that the U.S.-led coalition is committed to handing over power in Iraq. "That process [of transferring authority to Iraq] is going to continue whether we get a resolution or not," he said.

Negroponte again cited the resolution's mention of the UN's own outline for political tasks, delivered in a report to the Security Council last summer. "We have sought to take into account many of the suggestions that have been made about a potential UN role, including the secretary-general's own report of 15 July, which enumerated numerous tasks that he felt at that time the United Nations could usefully carry out in Iraq in support of the implementation of the political process," he said.

That July report was crafted by Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top UN envoy who died in the 19 August attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad. It includes a recommendation for the UN to assist in areas like police training, judicial reform, and preparations for elections.

A UN official told RFE/RL that the circumstances facing the United Nations are sharply different from the period when the report was prepared. UN officials, he said, are concerned about the perception that UN personnel are an extension of the occupying power in Iraq.

UN officials would prefer a primary political role, such as in Afghanistan, or else they plan to focus on humanitarian and rehabilitation work in Iraq.