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Annan: U.N. Won't Go Back to Baghdad Until It's Safe

The United States and the Iraqi Governing Council want the United Nations to play an important role in speeding the handover of power to a provisional government in Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

But he stressed that the return of U.N. international staff to Baghdad is still contingent on security conditions, which are being assessed daily. Annan raised the possibility of the United Nations providing assistance from outside Iraq, or from more peaceful cities inside the country.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters that the United States wants "the U.N. to play a role" in the transition and is open to a new Security Council resolution on Iraq. He did not elaborate.

Annan had repeatedly called for a quick hand over of power to Iraqis to help stabilize the country and he said Monday he was "encouraged" by the Bush administration's recent decision to speed the transition, proposing to establish a provisional government by June and an elected government before the end of 2005.

Over the weekend, Annan said he discussed the plan with Powell, the coalition's deputy administrator, Britain's Jeremy Greenstock, and Jalal Talabani (search), the Kurdish leader who is this month's president of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

Talabani, especially, expressed "the desire for the U.N. to play an active role," Annan said.

Speaking at a State Department press conference with Powell, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (search) said the accelerated transition was "a very important step forward. We will do what we can to contribute to these positive developments."

Under the plan agreed to by the coalition and the Governing Council, representatives for a transitional assembly would be chosen at provincial meetings. The representatives would then elect a provisional government by June.

U.N. diplomats said the process will need all the credibility it can get to give it legitimacy, and therefore the United Nations' contribution could be very important.

Annan ordered all Baghdad-based international staff to leave the country early this month following bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August and September and an upsurge in attacks afterward against humanitarian operations.

U.N. staff are still operating in northern Iraq, but Annan indicated security conditions weren't good enough yet for the return of U.N. staff to Baghdad.

"We are going to study the decision and the plans very carefully and decide what advice we can offer and what role we can play, how and where," Annan said.

He added that "we don't need to be in Iraq 100 percent to do what we can do, or offer our assistance. So we are looking at what we can do outside, and cross-border, and eventually what we can do inside."

Annan also said he hopes to name a replacement "in the not too distant future" for the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello (search), who was killed in the Aug. 19 attack along with 21 others.

Washington is keen to turn control over to Iraqis as anti-American sentiments and attacks grow, but there are fears among some Iraqis that insurgents could try to sabotage a successful transfer of power.

Ahmad Chalabi, an influential member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said Monday that insurgents could use violence to try to block the United States from turning sovereignty over to Iraq but would not succeed.