UNITED NATIONS – Security Council nations gave a generally positive response to the U.S.-British blueprint for a post-occupation Iraqi government, but several demanded greater Iraqi control over security and the U.S.-led multinational force that will try to restore stability.
The introduction of a draft resolution Monday by Iraq's occupying powers set the stage for intense negotiations with longtime critics of the war, such as France and Germany, who are demanding that Iraq's interim government be the key decision-maker on security issues.
In Berlin on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (search) called the U.S.-British plan a "very good foundation" for efforts to reach a consensus at the United Nations.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier (search) said the draft resolution "needs improvements" and France hopes to have a say in new talks over Iraqi sovereignty. He declined to elaborate.
France led the opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, insisting that military intervention needed U.N. backing to be legitimate.
The United States and Britain unveiled the long-awaited plan hours before President Bush said in a nationally televised address that American forces would stay in Iraq until it was free and democratic.
The resolution is an attempt by the Bush administration to win international backing for the post-occupation plans in Iraq, which have been severely shaken by violence. With his approval ratings sinking after repeated setbacks in Iraq, Bush is also seeking to rebuild support at home.
Under the resolution, the multinational force would be authorized to take "all necessary measures" to maintain security and prevent terrorism, while no mention is made of the Iraqi army — except the need for training.
The mandate for U.S.-led forces in Iraq would be reviewed after a year — or even earlier if a transitional government due to take power after January elections requests it. But U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham (search) said the United States will keep its promise "that we will leave if there's a request from the government to leave," which he called highly unlikely.
Council members said one of the major concerns raised during closed-door discussions after the resolution was introduced on Monday was the question of whether sovereignty is really being restored — or whether the occupation would continue under another guise.
Doubts over the government's legitimacy would undermine Washington's claims that the June 30 handover of power represents a major change in Iraq, with the official end of the U.S.-led occupation that many Iraqis resent.
Many in Iraq and in Europe fear that the interim government will not be seen as legitimate if it doesn't have a credible voice in the operations of armed forces on its own soil.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the new Iraqi government "must be able to make decisions over security issues or else it won't be truly sovereign."
Moscow has yet to give its official reaction but a Russian diplomat said the draft raises numerous questions and needs changes. The unnamed diplomat spoke to the Interfax news agency.
China expressed support for the plan and urged the early establishment of a new Iraq with "political sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
Barnier told reporters that Paris seeks a timeline for handing over control of Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi government should "in time" have "authority over police forces and the Iraqi army," he said.
Human Rights Watch (search) criticized the draft, saying the United States and Britain will retain ultimate responsibility for security and human rights and Iraq's new interim leaders will not have full authority to govern the country.
Cunningham and Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry (search) insist that the resolution will return all sovereignty to the Iraqis — and they argued that neither the United States, Britain nor the Security Council should be dictating to a sovereign Iraq what it should and shouldn't do.
"The important thing is that the political responsibility for taking decisions for the presence of the multinational force, for the development of a constitution, for the development of the political process, are going into Iraqi hands," Cunningham said. "It's not for the Security Council to tell them how to do it. It's for them — it's their process."
With the June 30 transfer of sovereignty looming, Washington and London decided to start negotiations on the 2,400-word resolution, even though U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (search) is still working on the makeup of the interim government. Key areas of the text will need to be filled in after Brahimi returns and the interim government is established — including how it will coordinate with the multinational force.
U.S. and British officials said once the government is formed, the multinational force commander is expected to send a letter spelling out how the force will relate to the interim government. The new Iraqi leadership is also expected to send a letter welcoming the Security Council resolution and U.N. help in the political process, and agreeing that the multinational force should remain in Iraq, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A British official said London hopes the letters will create a National Security Committee on which Iraqis would sit, giving them veto power over major military operations — like April's offensive in Fallujah that outraged many Iraqis. Germany has called for such a council as a vehicle for sharing power.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamed Bayati told The Associated Press the resolution and Bush's speech "included many positive points such as the decision to give full sovereignty to Iraqis rather than limited sovereignty and giving a role for the UN which Iraqis kept pushing for."
"After 12 months this government will advise the UN and the U.S. whether to stay or leave. Another positive point is that this very government will be in control of Iraq's oil revenues," he said.
In Baghdad, Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd member of the Governing Council, said the multinational forces should be under United Nations' command — a possibility ruled out by the Americans and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.