U.S. sets deadline for Iraq council

Resolution would require election plan by Dec. 15

U.N. security panel pleased

Wider world support goal of big concession

October 14, 2003|By Maggie Farley and Sonni Efron | Maggie Farley and Sonni Efron,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS - In a major concession to win international support in Iraq, the United States plans to introduce a new Security Council resolution today that gives Iraq's Governing Council until Dec. 15 to set a timetable for holding elections and writing a new constitution.

U.S. officials had vigorously resisted including deadlines in previous resolutions but apparently bowed to demands from France, Germany and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the U.S.-led administration quickly transfer power to Iraqis to end growing violence against the occupation and to create a leading role for the United Nations to guide the political transition.

Under the latest draft resolution that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sent to most of the council's foreign ministers over the weekend, the United States would have to report to the Security Council every six months. The council would review it after a year - with the option to withdraw its endorsement of a multinational force if it is unhappy with progress toward handing over power to Iraqis, a U.S. official said.

Initial reaction from the 15-member council was largely positive yesterday. A few council members expressed reservations, saying the draft excluded the United Nations from playing a leading role in rebuilding Iraq and the timetable for transferring power to Iraqis was too vague.

But U.S. officials could be temporarily heartened by the response from senior council members, including France, its leading critic on Iraq.

A French diplomat called the U.S. draft "a step in the right direction, to [give] the Iraqis the feeling that they have their future again in their hands."

That sentiment was echoed by Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, who said the new version "represents an important step forward." But he added that he would like to see further amendments giving the United Nations "a central, pivotal, fundamental role." Even though the draft authorizes a multinational force under U.S. command, few troops are expected to come from council nations. In language that seems deliberately ambiguous, the resolution declares that the Governing Council and its ministers "will embody the sovereignty of the State of Iraq" until an internationally recognized representative government is established.

But it also makes clear that the U.S.-led administration has overall authority and retains the responsibilities of an occupying power. "We make a distinction between the concept of sovereignty on the one hand and the exercise of specific authorities and governmental functions," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said. "The sovereignty of Iraq resides in the state of Iraq. But the Coalition Provisional Authority is temporarily exercising certain authorities and obligations of governance."

The resolution calls for a "vital" - but not central - U.N. role, although Annan has said that, because of recent attacks on U.N. offices in Baghdad, he will only send U.N. employees to play an "indispensable" role and only when security is much improved. But it leaves room for a U.N. role to grow in the future "as circumstances permit."

The new formulation of Iraq's sovereignty - granting it symbolically to the Iraqi Governing Council while the United States retains actual authority - has caused considerable confusion among council members.

Several diplomats said they wanted clarification of what the interim administration's actual powers would be: Could it renegotiate Iraq's debt or receive international loans? Could it refuse to accept Turkish troops on Iraqi soil as some Governing Council members desire? Could it end the occupation?

The U.S.-led authority does remain in control, despite sovereignty being "embodied" in the Governing Council, said Ruth Wedgewood, a professor of international law at the Johns Hopkins University and an adviser to the Bush administration. "We are still responsible under the law of armed conflict to maintain security and ensure there are minimum necessary goods, so it doesn't relieve us of our duty. We never claimed to be [the] sovereign" in Iraq.

"Embodies is an ambiguous word," she added. "It is largely symbolic, but if it pleases the French and it pleases the Iraqis, then it's OK."

Pleasing at least a majority of the council is what the revised resolution is all about. As of Thursday, Annan's dissatisfaction with the earlier draft had caused the council's consultations to stall, and Bush administration officials were considering dropping the measure.

Farley reported from the United Nations and Efron from Washington. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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