GENEVA – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) says the huge U.S. investment in Iraq in lives and money would be at risk if France (search)prevails in its proposal for an early transfer of authority from American to Iraqi control.
Powell was prepared to discuss the issue Saturday with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search), who is calling for the establishment of a provisional authority in Iraq in a month, a draft constitution by the end of the year and elections by next spring.
En route here from Washington on Friday, Powell called the idea "totally unrealistic" because conditions are not ripe.
"We have invested too much to consider such a proposal," Powell said. As of Thursday, 292 American troops have died in Iraq since combat operations began.
Powell said the French, in effect, are proposing that "we stop everything we're doing." A U.S. draft resolution before the U.N. Security Council says major decisions on key transition issues should be left to Iraqis.
Powell was to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and with representatives of the four other Security Council members in hopes of narrowing differences on Iraq in advance of the convening of the U.N. General Assembly later this month. President Bush will address the council on Sept. 23.
The council is nowhere near a consensus on Iraq policy, and Powell said he expected Saturday's discussions to be "spirited."
The U.S. draft resolution invites the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to cooperate with the United Nations and U.S. officials in Baghdad to produce "a timetable and program for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections."
In addition to France, Security Council members Russia and Germany have strong reservations about the U.S. draft. Powell said, however, he believes he has the nine votes necessary for approval — assuming there is no veto by a permanent member such as France.
Powell also was expected to confer with Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraq's Governing Council, who said Thursday that the United Nations should quickly assume more responsibility in Iraq to help speed a return of power to the Iraqi people.
"Greater U.N. involvement will give greater legitimacy to the whole situation and will be more acceptable to Iraqis," Pachachi said.