Published on Thursday, February 19, 2004 by the Los Angeles Times
France, Germany Want a U.N. Resolution on Iraq
Such a vote on the world body's role there could lead to another showdown with the U.S.
by Paul Richter and Maggie Farley
WASHINGTON — France and Germany said Wednesday that a new U.N. Security Council resolution on the world body's role in Iraq would be needed, prompting U.S. concerns about possible delays in reconstruction efforts and in the planned hand-over of sovereignty this summer.
The U.S. has been urging the United Nations to take a greater role in Iraq, but a new resolution may set up a new confrontation between the United States and two leading war opponents. The new complications arise as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepares to issue recommendations on how a new Iraqi government should be selected.
Annan was expected to tell the Security Council today that direct elections were not possible before the scheduled June 30 power transfer but would be desirable by the end of the year. Additional recommendations based on a U.N. team's visit to Iraq this month are expected next week.
Bush administration officials said they feared that a debate over a new resolution could drag on long enough to force a postponement of the hand-over to a transitional Iraqi government. They also worry that it could provide the U.N. with enough leverage to force an overhaul of major infrastructure projects in the country, such as those for power plants and oil field redevelopment.
Any debate may reopen diplomatic wounds from the prewar period and suggests a repetition of a pattern in which the U.S. has sought U.N. support but then been unhappy with the results. In 2002, the Bush administration asked for the United Nations' backing for the U.S. effort to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but turned critical when it failed to get the Security Council's blessing.
If the Security Council adopts a new resolution, the U.N. "might want to stop projects that we're about to get underway. They might want to undo ones that are already going," said one administration official, who asked to remain unidentified.
The U.S. official added that the administration was especially concerned about the French, although relations between the two countries have warmed since the Chirac government led opposition to the war.
After leading the invasion of Iraq last March without having gained U.N. support, U.S. officials have been looking to the international body for months to help rescue beleaguered recovery efforts. They hope that U.N. involvement in the transitional government will earn the mission greater acceptance by Iraqis and neighbors and lead other countries to contribute more money, troops and political support.
But some countries have been skeptical about the way the U.S.-led coalition has organized the occupation and rewarded contracts to rebuild the country. The United States has so far barred French, Russian and German companies from bidding for $18.6 billion in U.S.-funded prime reconstruction projects. All three nations opposed the war.
A second U.S. official said Wednesday that "we don't need any more resolutions."
But he added that, "knowing the lay of the land" at the U.N., "they're probably going to want one."
The official said he believed that any U.N. debate could be concluded in time for the June 30 hand-over. But he also predicted that there would be "many, many more meetings and trips" before the U.N. leadership could propose a specific role, and considerable debate before a vote on the resolution.
"There's a very slow process here," the official said. "They take tiny steps, and they're very, very cautious."
In interviews Wednesday at the United Nations, the French and German ambassadors signaled their interest in a new resolution.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said that it was still "too early" to be talking about a new resolution, but that one would soon become necessary.
"A new resolution will be needed to organize the situation after the 30th of June," he said. "Iraq will be a sovereign government, U.S. forces will have a new status, and the U.N. will be back in a new role."
Saying he wanted to be "cautious," De la Sabliere added: "We haven't started a discussion on it. But certainly we will need a new resolution before the 30th of June."
Gunter Pleuger, the German ambassador, largely agreed.
"If there appears to be a possibility that we will get an interim Iraqi government, then it makes sense to prepare a new resolution so we are ready for the transition on the 1st of July," Pleuger said.
He said it was his feeling that a Security Council resolution approved in October that legitimized the deployment of foreign troops in Iraq by turning the U.S.-led occupation force into a multinational one "would not be sufficient" after the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council dissolve. "We need a resolution to draw in other countries," he said.
Pleuger said the more urgent question seemed to be how the transfer of sovereignty would be handled. A Nov. 15 agreement with Iraqis that spelled out the various stages for the hand-over "seems to be falling apart," he said.
The news that Annan was expected to announce that elections before June 30 would not be possible was no surprise because special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had signaled, before he left Iraq on Friday, that the swift elections sought by the nation's Shiite Muslim majority were impractical. Brahimi also questioned a U.S. proposal to hold regional caucuses for a transitional national assembly before June 30. The leading proposals include expanding the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council or convening an Afghanistan-style national assembly to draft governing procedures for Iraq.
U.N. officials say Annan and Brahimi will meet early next week in Japan and discuss alternatives to the U.S. transition plan and may report back more fully to the Security Council after their return Wednesday.
The Bush administration is hoping that Annan can use his prestige to persuade Security Council members not to push the kind of resolution likely to open a major rift on the council, one of the administration officials said.
The official said Washington hoped it could win over the Germans, who were determined to improve ties with the U.S., and the Russians, who could probably be convinced with commercial inducements.
One former U.S. diplomat at the United Nations said she believed that the issue would be settled without Security Council involvement.
"There'll be an agreement between Washington, Kofi Annan and the Iraqi parties," said former U.S. envoy Nancy Soderberg. "Once you have that, nobody in the Security Council will want to muck with the deal."
The White House has been determined to complete the formal hand-over of sovereignty by June 30, in part, some administration officials have acknowledged, because of a belief among President Bush's political advisors that a transfer of power at that point would be advantageous for Bush's reelection campaign. And some Iraqi leaders have warned that ordinary Iraqis may react violently if the deadline is delayed.
But experts say the extent of damage caused by a delay depends on the related circumstances.
A delay amid rising violence and political uncertainty in Iraq will hurt the U.S. effort. But any delay will mean less if Iraq appears to be on a path to a new order acceptable to most Iraqis.
Henri J. Barkey, a former State Department policy planning official, said he did not believe that the administration would lose much ground with Americans or Iraqis if the deadline slipped, as long as the transitional government had U.N. blessing and free elections were ahead.
"It will not be a catastrophe," he said.
Richter reported from Washington and Farley from the United Nations.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times