A day before a key meeting of foreign ministers of permanent U.N. Security Council nations, France laid out its terms for supporting a U.S. resolution on Iraq, calling Friday for a provisional Iraqi government in a month, a draft constitution by year's end and elections next spring.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hopes the foreign ministers will agree on a "sense of direction" for Iraq when he meets with them Saturday in Geneva to try to forge a draft they can agree on. The five — Russia, China, France, the United States and Britain — wield vetoes in the 15-member Security Council and have the power to sink the resolution.
France is the most outspoken critic of the American plan, and wants a greater United Nations role and a faster timetable than the U.S. draft resolution proposes.
"Today, it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves to permit them to fully assume their responsibilities," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin wrote in an opinion piece in the daily Le Monde.
Russia also wants the draft resolution to outline a specific timeframe for the arrival of international peacekeepers and restoring sovereignty, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
With President Bush asking Congress for an additional $87 billion, mostly for postwar Iraq, the proposed U.S. resolution would help shift the burden from Washington, in part by creating a multinational force under a unified U.N. command with an American commander.
The United Nations has been excluded from playing any substantive role in guiding Iraq to self-government — the very area in which Annan said the United Nations had unique expertise after guiding East Timor to statehood and putting Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan back on their feet after long conflicts.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television that the United States wants to restore Iraqi sovereignty "as fast as we can" and is starting by giving responsibility to newly appointed Cabinet ministers.
In another interview with the German ARD television, Powell said the United Nations has a "vital role" in Iraq, but "isn't ready to handle" assuming all authority.
Annan said he hopes to see "some convergence" when he meets Powell, de Villepin meet and the other foreign ministers — Igor Ivanov of Russia, Jack Straw of Britain and Li Zhaoxing of China.
Then the full 15-member council can take up the resolution in New York, he said.
Germany, one of the 10, has backed the French position.
"We're expecting constructive discussions, followed by further constructive discussions in New York," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Walter Lindner said in Berlin. "There are a whole lot of proposals on the table."
A key aim of the U.S. draft is to give countries like Turkey, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the U.N. authorization they say they need before committing any troops to Iraq.
Annan also hopes the meeting will address the need to improve protection for aid workers on the ground.
A suicide bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Iraq on Aug. 19 killed 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. That has led the United Nations to reduce its staff, and a key concern has been that the U.S. resolution address the United Nations' security needs.