U.S. Draft Sets Iraq Election Timetable

The United States pushed for a new Iraq resolution Monday with a draft that gives Iraq's Governing Council (search) until Dec. 15 to submit a timetable for holding elections and writing a new constitution. Early reaction to the draft, obtained by The Associated Press, was mixed.

U.S. diplomats had resisted including deadlines into earlier drafts of the resolution but faced stiff opposition from fellow U.N. Security Council (search) members including France, Germany and Russia.

The United States and Britain have said Iraq must first have a constitution and hold elections before they relinquish sovereignty. France, Germany and Russia are seeking a quick transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government and want the United Nations to get the major role in overseeing the country's political transition to a democracy.

The new U.S. draft does not set a deadline for the hand over of power, which France had said it wanted by the end of the year. But it does ask the United Nations to help the Iraqi people during the political transition and provide its "unique expertise" when the Governing Council holds a constitutional conference and in its preparations for elections.

The United States, which holds the council's rotating presidency for October, circulated the draft informally over the weekend. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington would seek a vote on the resolution this week.

According to the draft, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, the Governing Council must submit to the Security Council by Dec. 15 "a timetable and a program for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under the constitution."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he would like to see a constitution adopted in six months, and elections perhaps six months later.

A U.S. official acknowledged the Dec. 15 deadline was an attempt to address the demands of countries like France and Germany.

"It's hard to come up with a date when you don't know how the situation is going to unfold," the official said. "So we were trying to put forward as specific a date as we could without locking people into a date that we didn't know if it could be met or not."

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the draft "a step in the right direction," while France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search) said more analysis was needed of the changes, which essentially call for a timetable to come up with a timetable.

The spokesman for Russia's U.N. mission, Sergey Trepelkov, said Moscow still wanted some changes, including an exact timetable and a "crucial, central role" for the United Nations.

"Until additional corrections are introduced to this document, including those that were suggested by Russia, it is very difficult to reach consensus on this issue," Trepelkov said.

The draft is the latest version of a resolution seeking international troops and money to help the U.S.-led effort to rebuild Iraq, and appeared after a week of back-and-forth with other nations of the 15-member council.

The draft had appeared headed toward passage two weeks ago until Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said the United Nations wanted a central role in Iraq's political future or little role at all because the risk was too great to U.N staff otherwise. That pushed the United States to turn to other council members for new suggestions on the draft, which it took back to Washington last week.

The draft does not give Annan what he wants, leaving unchanged language that says the United Nations "should strengthen its vital role in Iraq."

It does, however, say Iraq's Governing Council should work with the U.N. special representative to Iraq as well as the U.S.-led occupation in coming up with its plans before the Dec. 15 deadline.

The new U.S. draft reaffirms Iraq's sovereignty and underlines "the temporary nature" of the occupation by the U.S.-led coalition. It states that the Coalition Provisional Authority will remain in charge "until an internationally recognized representative government is established by the people of Iraq and assumes the responsibilities of the authority."

At the same time, however, it also beefs up language recognizing the Governing Council and its U.S.-appointed ministers as the "principal bodies of the Iraqi interim administration, which will embody the sovereignty of the state of Iraq during the transitional period."

A U.S. State Department official said Powell spent the weekend working the phones, and spoke with Annan and eight other members of the Security Council. The official described the reaction as positive.

President Bush refused on Monday to put a timetable on the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.

"The definition of when we get out is when there is a free and peaceful Iraq based upon a constitution and elections, and obviously we'd like that to happen as quickly as possible.

"But we are mindful of rushing the process which would create the conditions for failure," he said.

As before, the draft calls for the creation of a multinational force to help maintain security in Iraq. But unlike previous versions, it says the Security Council will review the force's mission no later than a year after the resolution passes.

Another council diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the draft would be formally submitted either late Monday or Tuesday.