France, Russia question U.S. handover in Iraq
Military authority among issues in draft resolution
U.N. Security Council to continue discussing new U.S.-British draft resolution on Iraq.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Diplomats on Tuesday questioned how much power the United States will transfer to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, as Russia suggested members of the new government should be chosen before the U.N. Security Council votes to endorse the scheduled handover.
The Security Council was joined Tuesday afternoon by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for closed talks on a U.S.-British draft resolution that would put an international stamp on the handover.
The consultations came a day after President Bush laid out the plan in a speech at the U.S. Army War College.
"This is the beginning of a process, and I'm sure in the discussions there will be clarifications and possible amendments in the draft," Annan said.
Annan said U.N. officials want to name a government by the end of May, "and I hope we'll be able to meet that target."
But U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said he did not know whether U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would be able to produce a list of names for an interim government in that time frame.
"Mr. Brahimi is going flat out, trying to develop consensus among a broad cross-section of Iraqi leadership," Eckhard said. "And of course the closer you get to your goal, the tougher the bargaining becomes."
Bush sought French backing for the transfer Tuesday in a phone call with President Jacques Chirac, agreeing that the proposed resolution would need "further adjustments" if it is to win council support.
In Washington, Bush told reporters there will be a "complete and real transfer of sovereignty" from the U.S.-led occupation to an interim Iraqi government, and he said Chirac shares the U.S. goal of "a free and stable and peaceful Iraq."
The draft resolution, circulated Monday by U.S. and British diplomats, would give the Security Council's approval to an interim government that would rule in Baghdad until elections, now scheduled to take place by the end of January. It also would authorize a multinational force under U.S. command for at least a year.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he expects that Brahimi will come up with a slate of officeholders for the interim government within days.
"We've been in daily contact with Ambassador Brahimi, and he's quite skilled at these kinds of things," Powell said on NBC's "Today" show.
"We will have to wait for the outcome of the Brahimi process," said Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram. "At least this is how I see it."
France, one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, has said the resolution should have stronger language, making clear the interim government has full sovereignty. (Full story)
That definition should include the right to veto military operations by the U.S.-led multinational force that will remain in Iraq after the handover, the French said.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters that the interim government would have the authority to veto moves by international troops. "If there's a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government," he said. (Full story)
But the White House has said it prefers to spell out a military relationship with the interim Iraqi government in an exchange of letters with that government rather than in the resolution.
A broadly worded statement by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said the new resolution "should answer the real concerns of Iraqi society," but offered few specifics on what Moscow wants to see included.
Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawir, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, said the resolution has many good points, but "falls a little bit short of our expectations."
Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi said the interim government wants to see language stating that any U.S. military action must be taken "in close cooperation and consultation with the Iraqi government."
Yahya Mahmassani, the Arab League ambassador to the United Nations, said the issue of military authority is one of many "loopholes" in the proposed resolution.
"There is no precise definition for sovereignty, and there is no definition and clarity regarding the relationship between the multinational forces and the interim government," he told CNN's American Morning. "Who exercises the authority? Who has the upper hand?"
Powell said Tuesday that U.S. and allied troops will remain in the country only with the consent of the interim Iraqi government, which has yet to be named. But "U.S. forces remain under U.S. command, and will do what is necessary to protect themselves."