UNITED NATIONS – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search)'s tough stance has thrown into doubt the fate of a new U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution after he all but ruled out a U.N. political role as long as the U.S. and British forces are running Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) responded by calling Annan and assuring him of a significant U.N. role in Iraq. Powell told Annan that the proposed resolution would go a long way toward helping Iraq and smoothing the way for U.N. involvement in the country's future, a U.S. official said.
"We are anxious to receive specific suggestions" to improve the proposed resolution, Powell told reporters in Washington on Friday, acknowledging that the pace of the transition was a subject of ongoing debate.
Annan has made it clear he opposes the U.S. resolution, which offers the United Nations only a marginal role in Iraq's political process, a senior U.N. official told reporters Friday.
The new resolution asks the United Nations and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to help the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to adopt a constitution, hold elections and train civil servants. It endorses a step-by-step transfer of authority to an Iraqi interim administration, but sets no timetable for the handover of sovereignty.
The secretary-general told ambassadors from the 15 council nations at a private lunch on Thursday that since the coalition was going to run the country, it must remain in charge of Iraq's political transition to democracy and not try to get the United Nations in as a second-string player, the official said.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who met with Annan on Friday, said negotiations were continuing and he did not think it was over for the resolution. A Security Council meeting is scheduled for Monday.
"I think there's room for doing it in a partnership and I think there's room for doing it in a collaborative way," Negroponte said, adding "I think that's certainly the spirit in which we would approach it."
Annan does not have a vote in the council, but his voice is likely to be heeded by many, especially as France and other countries that opposed the war also have expressed reservations about the U.S. proposal.
"We always look for the guidance of the secretary general and this is no exception," Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said.
For the resolution to pass, Washington needs to get nine "yes" votes in the 15-member council and no veto from the five permanent members. Unlike the contentious dispute earlier this year over a resolution to authorize the U.S.-led war, nobody is threatening a veto.
Several council diplomats, concerned about Annan's views, said they don't believe the current draft could be adopted.
"If the resolution is put to vote, I don't think it will get nine votes," Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said.
The French, Russians, Germans and Chinese also say the new draft — which aims to get more countries to contribute troops and money to stabilize and rebuild Iraq — falls short of their demands.
The revised U.S. resolution has only won support from U.S. ally Britain, which signed on as a co-sponsor, and a sympathetic response from Bulgaria and Spain.
Annan wants the United States to hand over sovereignty in three to five months to an Iraqi provisional government, which could then take the two years or so that the United Nations has found is necessary to create a good constitution. Putting Iraqis in charge of the country also would likely improve security and attract the troops and reconstruction money Washington is seeking, Annan said, according to the senior U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Annan, the French, Russians and Germans want a quick transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government and a lead role for the United Nations in helping to draft a constitution and hold elections.
But Washington says it wants a constitution first, then elections and eventually a transfer of sovereignty to a popular government — a process that could take a few years. The draft retains U.S. control over the military and political process.
The U.N. official explained Friday that a concern was that Iraq would effectively remain under occupation until elections were held and anyone helping Iraq could be seen as allied to the Americans and British.
The United Nations is particularly sensitive to this because of two recent bomb attacks against U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. One killed Annan's top Iraq envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said Friday that U.N. staff members "are willing to risk their lives in certain conditions, but the risk has to be comparable to the task, and (Annan) is not willing to risk the lives of his people for some menial role and not really the leading role that we all want it to play."
If the United States decided to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis quickly, Annan said the United Nations would be prepared to accept the risk of returning staff in large numbers to Iraq — as it has done in Afghanistan, the U.N. official said.