UNITED NATIONS – The United States has agreed to give the United Nations (search) a bigger political role in overseeing Iraq's transition to democracy, an American official said Friday, while Britain and Spain welcomed a tentative U.S. timeline for handing over power to an elected Iraqi government.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) set out the timeline for drafting a constitution and holding elections, possibly in a little more than a year, but stressed it was not a deadline with dire consequences.
The United States is pushing for a new U.N. resolution to try to get more countries to contribute troops and money to Iraq, but faces opposition from France, Germany and several other Security Council nations that want Washington to relinquish power quickly and give the United Nations more say in the process.
An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has agreed to give the world body a bigger role in the election and the political transition from one-party rule under Saddam Hussein (search) to a democracy.
"We've promised to turn that process over to the U.N. So I think you've seen the United States move quite a bit," the U.S. official said.
In his Tuesday speech before the General Assembly (search), President Bush spoke broadly about a need for global help and outlined a limited role for the United Nations in writing an Iraqi constitution, training civil servants and overseeing elections.
Powell met with ministers from the 14 other Security Council nations, and dozens of others concerned about the instability in Iraq -- including two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in a month. He then returned to Washington late Friday to work on a revised resolution.
"Colin Powell told us today ... that he is going back to Washington with a very, very broad set of suggestions, proposals, that he's going to be very serious about that, and then next week (the) American government ... will present a new version of the draft of the resolution," Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said after Powell met his European Union counterparts.
The U.S. official said the timeline suggested by Powell was a response to the French.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, stopped en route to a meeting at U.N. headquarters, refused to answer a question seeking his reaction.
Germany said Powell's idea would have to flow into negotiations on the new resolution, but refused to categorize it in any way.
Germany's stand, expressed repeatedly by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, remains that there should be a return to Iraqi sovereignty as soon as possible, but with a "realistic" timeline, Foreign Ministry spokesman Walter Lindner said in Berlin.
Britain welcomed Powell's statement.
"We are committed to elections during the course of next year, and hope this fits in with that," a Foreign Office spokesman in London said on condition of anonymity.
Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio told The Associated Press she was encouraged.
"I think that we need a timetable," she said. "This would be a good sign for the Iraqi people and for the international public opinion -- that the process is there, that the full exercise of sovereignty by the Iraqi people is on its way after so many decades of a brutal government."
Powell said the timeline was part of a plan outlined by the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, to give power back to the Iraqis.
"Six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of this constitution, and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people," Powell said after a high-level meeting concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"If it's possible to meet that goal of finishing the constitutional work in six months, then it is quite appropriate to consider that shortly thereafter the people would be able to ratify such a constitution and prepare for elections.
"Some people say it would be another six months for elections, but we really can't be precise about it."
Bremer told a Pentagon news conference that a preparatory committee named by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council will produce a report Tuesday detailing how to proceed with a constitutional convention. However, it is unclear when the writing of the constitution will begin.
Responding to a question, Powell said, "The six months we anticipate would begin with the formation of the constitutional group and the beginning of their work."