WASHINGTON – President Bush in his U.N. speech Tuesday will resist French and German pressures for a quick surrender of U.S. authority in Iraq (search), top aides said. American and European diplomats worked behind the scenes to draft a compromise on the pace of a handover.
The president cited "good progress" in Iraq as he met with two visiting Iraqi ministers in the Oval Office on the eve of his speech. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice (search), criticized any plans to rush the transfer of power, saying it must come in "an orderly process."
"The French plan, which would somehow transfer sovereignty to an unelected group of people, just isn't workable," she told reporters.
According to diplomats familiar with early drafts and discussions, a draft Security Council resolution backing a multinational occupation force, circulated by American officials, won't specifically meet French demands for a timetable on the handover.
Instead, it will call on the 25-member U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council (search) to come up with a timetable of its own -- a compromise that may satisfy the French only if a framework for such a timetable is agreed upon privately ahead of time.
U.S. officials were talking with European allies to work out the pace of any handover of authority, diplomats said. It remained unclear, they said, how the United States would handle French and German desires for the United Nations to oversee the process and to be given a larger role in the management of Iraq's transition to democracy.
Bush worked Monday on the final draft of his speech, which he will deliver to the General Assembly around 10:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday. He planned to urge U.N. members, including those who opposed the war, to work together on reconstruction and to put aside past differences.
The president also met with two officials from Iraq chosen by the Governing Council, Public Works Minister Nesreen Berwari and Electricity Minister Ayham Sameraei. Both agreed with the administration's contention that more time is needed before Iraqis receive full self-control.
"We only need help in the beginning and then we'll do it ourselves," said Berwari. The two are part of an Iraqi delegation seeking to claim Iraq's U.N. seat on Tuesday.
Sameraei predicted that the country would stabilize so that America could withdraw its troops "within a few years."
"These two good souls found that the system they inherited was not conducive for taking care of the citizens," Bush said. "I love their spirit. I love the fact that they are dedicated to doing their jobs."
"I also appreciate the appraisal of what's going on in Iraq, the assessment that we're making good progress toward achieving our objectives," Bush said.
But the administration's attempts to win support for the new resolution were complicated by fresh criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac.
Putin said America's failure to stabilize Iraq had reinforced his belief that the war had been a bad idea.
And Chirac called for quick transfer of civilian control to the Iraqis. He said France would vote in favor of the resolution only if it had a deadline and included a key role for the United Nations.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, said coalition forces had to remain in charge "until such time as we allow the Iraqi people to determine how they wish to be governed, with a constitution, and to then select those who govern them."
Talking to reporters outside the United Nations, Powell said the Bush administration intends to follow "a deliberate and well-considered plan to get to the point that we all want to get to, and that is to give Iraq and the Iraqi people full authority for their own destiny and their own hopes and dreams.
"What we don't want to do is set them up for a failure by jump-starting the process or trying to do something now which is absolutely unrealistic," Powell said.
In a lethal reminder of the continuing unrest in Iraq, a car bomber killed an Iraqi policeman and himself and injured 19 other people outside the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on Monday. The attack came a month after a deadly bombing there that killed 23 people, including the U.N.'s top envoy.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush also would call on U.N. members to support continuing reconstruction in Afghanistan, stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction and ending slavery and other forms of human exploitation.
L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said he opposed any quick transfer of power to the Iraqis.
"No appointed government, not even one as honest and dedicated as the Iraqi Governing Council, can have the legitimacy necessary today to take on the difficult issues Iraqis face as they write their constitution and elect a government," Bremer told a congressional committee. "The only path to full Iraqi sovereignty is through a written constitution, ratified and followed by free, democratic elections."