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Iraq: Key Council Members Suggest Afghan-Style Conference For Iraq

United Nations, 24 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Three key UN Security Council members have expressed support for holding an international conference to set the course for the political and economic reform process in Iraq.

Ambassadors from France, Germany, and Russia today called for consideration of such a conference, patterned after the Bonn process for post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, told the council the conference could serve to rally Iraqis, their neighbors and others in a common cause to stabilize the country's reforms.

"We have done so in another case quite successfully in Afghanistan and why shouldn't we repeat this model again if it can help to stabilize and to further the process that is now going to begin?" Pleuger said.

The ambassadors spoke after a briefing by the U.S. and British envoys on the status of Iraq's political and economic progress since the toppling of President Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said he had no immediate response to the request for an Afghan-style conference. Britain's ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, told reporters the Coalition Provisional Authority would have to seriously consider such a conference if Iraqi provisional leaders supported it.

"It's really for the Iraqis to look at the options to see what exactly they want to achieve and to then identify the best means for taking it forward. I don't think we can be prescriptive, but what's quite clear is the more representative the form of government that emerges, the better," Jones Parry said.

Pleuger and envoys from France, Russia, and China all welcomed the U.S.-backed agreement by the Iraqi Governing Council last week on a political process to establish a representative transitional government to take over from the CPA in June.

But they stressed that the United Nations, which now has no international staff in Iraq, must have a lead role in the political transition process to lend it legitimacy.

Pleuger indicated the more the process can be internationalized, the greater impact it can have on calming the security situation in Iraq.

"It is imperative to create an international order based on cooperation and inclusiveness with the United Nations as its center and I think that is a way to a stable Iraq and that is a way how to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people," Pleuger said.

In his briefing to the council earlier, Negroponte said the coalition would welcome a return of UN international staff to Iraq to help carry out key humanitarian, reconstruction, and political tasks. He said the CPA is ready to discuss appropriate security support for UN staff.

Negroponte also noted today marked the end of the UN's oil-for-food program, devised seven years ago to provide vital goods to Iraqis amid harsh sanctions. Money from the program is expected to provide basic food supplies to most Iraqis through next June.

Negroponte said the phase-out of the program marks another step in the CPA's goal to hand over control of core responsibilities to Iraqi authorities.

He acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition remains preoccupied with security conditions in Iraq, where military, diplomatic, and humanitarian facilities have been targeted. But he stressed there has been clear progress in returning elements of self-rule to numerous Iraqi municipalities. He said hundreds of neighborhood-level councils now help provide services such as water, electricity, health services, education, and public sanitation.

"Day-to-day operation of the Iraqi government is now in the hands of Iraqis," Negroponte said. "Across the country, neighborhood, district, and provincial councils represent the needs and opinions of their constituents to the Iraqi Governing Council."

The 15 November agreement calls for drafting an interim constitution, with U.S. help, and holding a series of caucuses at the provincial level to form a Transitional National Assembly. The delegates to the assembly are to be selected within six months. The body would then take over from the CPA with full sovereign powers by the end of June. A new Iraqi government would be elected by the end of 2005.

It is not yet clear how the United Nations could guide this effort. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier this week it was possible to provide assistance at the beginning from outside of Iraq. He plans to appoint a new special envoy for Iraq soon.