Annan Vows to Work With Iraqis on Interim Gov't

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) pledged to work with Iraqis on selecting an interim government with broad support Thursday amid indications that his top adviser could return to the Mideast nation.

Annan, who advised against holding elections in Iraq before the transfer of power on June 30, told reporters his organization would stay involved in Iraq (search). He stressed the transfer date for restoring sovereignty must be honored.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said that top Annan adviser Lakhdar Brahimi (search) has indicated that he will return to Iraq to help the Iraqis work out the best way to choose a body to assume power.

"My impression is that ambassador Brahimi might go back again to work out what is exactly this mechanism during this transitional period," Wang told two reporters. "He indicated that he will go back."

But the secretary-general refused to say whether he would send Brahimi back, telling reporters "we will stay involved."

Other U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated Annan might wait a while before sending a U.N. envoy to see if the Iraqis can reach agreement among themselves.

Annan and Brahimi discussed the next steps in Iraq's political process with representatives of 45 countries and the European Union and again at a closed-door lunch with the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council.

"We have absolutely no preferred options," Annan said when asked his preference for establishing an interim Iraqi government. "We need to have the Iraqis discuss it. They must take ownership, discuss it among themselves, and we will try and work with them to find a consensus."

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said earlier Thursday that changes are possible in the formula for establishing a new Iraqi government but that the date for the coalition to hand over power remains firm. He said there were dozens of options on how to hand over power.

The United States has argued that security concerns and lack of preparations make quick elections impossible and had proposed holding caucuses in 18 provinces to choose an interim government. The powerful Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, however, called for direct elections before a transfer of power, arguing that a government based on caucuses would be "illegitimate."

The secretary-general stressed that there was wide support inside and outside Iraq for national elections to choose an Iraqi government, but he said they must be carefully planned and held under "optimal technical, security and political conditions."

He refused to give a timeframe for voting, but China's Wang said it is widely assumed elections will take place early next year, a view backed by other Security Council envoys.