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Bremer: U.N. has 'vital role' to play in Iraq

Civilian administrator cites experience in setting up elections

L. Paul Bremer speaks after meeting with President Bush at the White House.
L. Paul Bremer speaks after meeting with President Bush at the White House.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Baghdad, emerged from a meeting with President Bush and other top advisers at the White House on Friday saying the United Nations has a "vital role" to play in postwar Iraq.

Bremer huddled with Bush on ways to win U.N. support for a refined U.S. plan for the transfer of power in Iraq. Bremer heads to the United Nations on Monday to meet with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the president of the Iraqi Governing Council and other officials.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Bremer said he believes the United Nations should play a "vital role in the political and economic developments in Iraq."

"We do think there is a role for the United Nations in this process," Bremer said. "The U.N. has a lot of expertise in organizing elections, electoral commissions, electoral laws [and] has a great deal of expertise it can bring to bear in the process of writing a constitution."

He said Monday's session at the United Nations will be a "three-way discussion between the [Coalition Provisional Authority], the U.N. and the governing council."

In addition to holding talks Friday with Bush, Bremer met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The administration has begun debating "refinements" designed to deal with criticism from Iraqi Shiite leaders about caucus-style elections for a transitional national assembly. Shiites, who represent the majority of the population in Iraq, want direct elections, but coalition officials say that can't be pulled off in the few months before the political handover at the end of June.

Bremer said the coalition is "willing to consider refinements," but that the administration will not alter the planned June 30 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis.

"We are not anxious to extend our period of occupation as the occupational authority past June 30th," he said. "It's quite clear the Iraqi people also are anxious to get sovereignty back."

A U.N. endorsement of the transitional plan could help quiet international criticism of the U.S. effort in Iraq. It also could help the United States deal with opposition from Iraqi Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has called for direct elections and voiced concerns that the caucus plan is designed to limit Shiite influence.

The U.S.-backed political transition plan calls for regional caucuses in Iraq by the end of May to elect an Iraqi legislature. That legislature -- or parliament -- would then choose an executive administration to take over sovereignty of Iraq by the end of June.

Bremer denied that Sistani and the coalition disagree.

"We need to find a way to go forward with a transparent and representative fashion," Bremer said. "We have said that we are prepared to see clarifications in the process ... And I think that's one of the areas that we'll, obviously, be talking to the secretary-general and his colleagues about."

Bremer's British counterpart, Jeremy Greenstock, and John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will also attend the Monday meetings.

Administration sources said the goal is to win a strong statement from Annan backing the political transition plan and a commitment to send a U.N. team to Iraq to assist with the effort.

"The issue of the political transition in Iraq is certainly the topic on the agenda," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Thursday.

He also said the United States would help "make sure that the U.N. has the kind of security that they need for their circumstances and their kind of operations in Iraq."

Annan ordered U.N. personnel out of Iraq after the bombing in August at its headquarters in Baghdad, which killed Annan's special representative to Iraq and 21 others.

CNN's John King contributed to this report.

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