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Annan to Discuss Iraq With Negroponte

The United Nations (searchneeds to hear from the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi leaders before deciding whether to return to Iraq, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan (searchhas concrete ideas about what role the world body should play, officials said.

Annan planned to meet later Friday with John Negroponte (search), the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to discuss a Jan. 19 meeting that will focus on the United Nation's future in Iraq.

Annan wants the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council to clarify the U.N. role during the transition process as the coalition hands over power to Iraqis on June 30.

Annan pulled U.N. international staff out of Iraq after a deadly suicide bombing on its Baghdad headquarters in August and has said it's not safe enough to return.

Annan met with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday. Hagel, a leading backer of the United Nations, said they discussed the Jan. 19 meeting, and agreed that getting U.N. workers back into Iraq quickly was crucial.

"I believe that the secretary-general does have some very specific ideas about how the U.N. could participate," Hagel said. He repeated his belief that having the United Nations in Iraq in a prominent role would bring international legitimacy to U.S. work there.

Hagel was not at the United Nations as an envoy of President Bush but said Secretary of State Colin Powell had told him Washington "is placing a great deal of importance on that January 19th meeting."

A new U.N. mandate could vary widely. The United Nations could be limited to humanitarian and refugee work, or it could play a direct role in Iraq's political transition. It could, for example, help oversee a Nov. 15 agreement between the coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council that calls for a legislature elected through caucuses in each of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Negroponte was to be joined by Kim Holmes, the assistant secretary of state for international organizations, and possibly other State Department officials.

Among the open questions is who the Coalition Provisional Authority will send to the Jan. 19 meeting. Annan has said he expects the United States to participate, but U.S. officials have made clear that the invitation was to the CPA, and not to the United States specifically. That raises the possibility that U.S. officials may not attend at all, in what Annan would likely see as a major snub.