WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Friday the Bush administration was open to suggestions by China and other nations that would strengthen control by a new Iraqi government over U.S.-led forces in the country.
Dismissing any possibility the U.N. Security Council (search) would become embroiled in the kind of divisive debate that preceded the U.S. war against Iraq, Powell underscored that the troops were in Iraq "at the consent of the government of the people of Iraq."
If the caretaker government due to take over July 1 withdraws its consent the 32-nation force will withdraw, Powell said at a news conference.
In the same vein, President Bush pledged the U.S.-led coalition would transfer "complete and full sovereignty" to the interim government, which will rule until elections are held, probably early next year.
Bush expressed his commitment in a telephone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin and then in a Rose Garden appearance with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a steadfast U.S. ally in military operations in Iraq. Bush said Rasmussen pressed him about the U.S. promise.
One of the unanswered questions is the extent of Iraqi control over the roughly 135,000 U.S. troops who will remain in Iraq after the transfer of political power.
Bush said he told Rasmussen that "our government and our coalition will transfer full sovereignty - complete and full sovereignty" to an Iraqi government that will be picked by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has led the process for drawing up the new government.
Earlier this week, Powell said the U.S. commanders who will remain in charge of American troops would have the final say on the troops' missions and their safety.
Four key nations -- China, Russia, France and Germany -- would require the multinational force to "consult with the interim government in respect of military actions except for self-defense," according to a draft of a Chinese proposal.
The mandate of the force would expire in January 2005, when elections are expected to be held in Iraq.
Powell said a draft resolution being circulated among Council members by the United States and Britain provides for a review of the peacekeeping operation after 12 months "or anytime the government of Iraq wishes to review it."
"If my Security Council colleagues have a better formulation of that language that they think would be clearer, let's consider it," he said.
At the United Nations, talks on an Iraq resolution were held this week at a relatively low level. Next week, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, the ambassadors of the Security Council nations will take up the discussion.
The resolution will be presented formally to the council after U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (search) chooses the leaders of the interim government.
The Iraqi Governing Council on Friday recommended Iyad Allawi, head of the exiled Iraqi National Accord and a member of the Council, for prime minister, the most powerful post.
Brahimi respects the decision and is willing to work with Allawi to select the rest of the government, a U.N. spokesman said in New York.
Powell and Boucher declined to discuss Allawi's selection. "I think we'll let Ambassador Brahimi continue and finish his work," Boucher said.