UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said Tuesday the process of choosing an Iraqi interim government wasn't perfect but the United Nations did "exactly what we set out to do."
Annan said it was clear from the start that the United Nations would be discussing the makeup of the new government with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (search), the Iraqi Governing Council (search) and other Iraqi constituencies.
"It was never intended that the United Nations will go and appoint and impose a government on the Iraqis," he said. "We have to discuss it, and given the circumstances and the factors on the ground, it is not surprising that you have a mix of people from the Governing Council and from outside who are forming the new government."
Annan faced a barrage of questions at U.N. headquarters about concerns that U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (search) had been sidelined in the selection process and that the United States had exercised undue influence.
"It's been difficult," Annan said of Brahimi's mission. "He's had to make compromises to move the process ahead. It was never going to be easy. He knew that."
When asked about President Bush's comment that Brahimi was "the quarterback" of the selection process, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard stressed it was the coalition that was primarily responsible.
"Mr. Brahimi put together an extensive list of names of possible political leaders for Iraq following consultations far and wide throughout the country. Those lists were submitted to the people making the decisions -- the CPA first and foremost, and the Iraqi Governing Council, both of which had invited Mr. Brahimi to Iraq to help them in the selection of these leaders," Eckhard said.
Pressed on whether the CPA made the decision, he replied: "The CPA governs the country. Please do not forget the context in which Mr. Brahimi was working."
Annan said interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had been on Brahimi's list.
"As far as the government, he discussed the list with the new prime minister, who after the discussion exercised his privilege and selected the Cabinet. But that also was from the list that Mr. Brahimi had produced," Annan said.
Asked what he would say to the Iraqi people, Annan said, "I think we all have to recognize that the process wasn't perfect and it's a difficult environment."
He said the fact that some exiles emerged as key leaders came out of the process of consultation.
"It was not the United Nations that imposed them on Iraq or on the people," Annan said, "and I think it would be wrong to say that the United Nations has allowed itself to be used."
The United Nations had responded to the Governing Council and other Iraqis and determined that elections weren't possible before the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, and that caucuses weren't viable, he said. It proposed a new approach using consultations and started working with the Iraqis to prepare for January 2005 elections, a process that is continuing.
"So we've done exactly what we set out to do," Annan said.
He said he wanted to add his voice "to those who are welcoming the Iraqi people for designating a new government."
"I think this is a new beginning," he said. "It's not an end. There's lots of work ahead."
Annan expressed hope that the U.N. Security Council would arrange for consultations with the new government as soon as possible on the resolution it is working on dealing with post-occupation Iraq.
The council scheduled consultations Tuesday at the request of Britain, which has been working on a revised draft with the United States.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the new resolution would make clear the Iraqi interim government "will be fully sovereign," with control over its natural resources and authority over the national police force. It also makes clear that the objective is for Iraqis to progressively assume responsibility "for maintenance of security and stability in Iraq," he said.
On the multinational force, he said, the revised draft will include a U.S. pledge to respect the interim government's decision on whether the force stays or leaves. It will also specify that the force's mandate will end after democratic elections under a new constitution, but will also make clear the council will end the force's mandate earlier if requested by the transitional government, Boucher said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari was heading to New York to press the council for full sovereignty.
Annan, meanwhile, scheduled a meeting Wednesday of the Group of Friends of Iraq, comprising 47 nations and the European Commission. He had set up the forum to exchange views and share advice.
Annan said he has told heads of state, including Bush, "that we need to try to bring the violence down." This is crucial for elections, for reconstruction and for average Iraqis, he added.
"I have no reason to believe that it is going to stop because a government has been designated," he said.