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Security Council Endorses Iraq's New Governing Body

Envoys remain sharply divided over whether the U.N. should seek greater authority in the nation. The U.S. is reluctant to cede power.

August 15, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday welcoming the recently formed Iraqi Governing Council, yet in private talks it remained stalemated on whether to expand the U.N. role in Iraq.

The U.S.-proposed resolution, approved 14 to 0, represented a mild endorsement of the Governing Council as a transitional body and created an office to oversee U.N. efforts in helping rebuild Iraq. U.S. officials hope the measure, by demonstrating U.N. approval of U.S.-led reconstruction efforts, will encourage ambivalent countries to provide more support.

But the Security Council remains divided between members who favor broader U.N. powers in Iraq, and the United States, which would welcome financial support and troops from other nations but is reluctant to cede authority.

Diplomats say there has been little movement during six weeks of informal talks.

Russia, for example, has repeatedly urged broad international involvement yet has made it clear that it would provide no troops even with a new resolution, one diplomat said.

India and Pakistan have said they would want a new resolution broadening U.N. powers before they would consider providing thousands of troops, as the United States has requested. But the two nations have also made it clear that such a deployment would not be automatic, even if such a resolution was adopted.

An agreement to share authority would be a momentous step for the Bush administration, which so far has retained almost all power in Iraq -- as well as borne most of the financial cost and casualties.

One European diplomat said public opinion is key to what leaders decide about contributions. In many countries, the public is reluctant to provide troops or money but is eager to see Iraq recover.

From the perspective of the U.S.-led occupation authority, it is crucial to demonstrate that the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council is legitimate and that it has influence on how the country is being run, the diplomat said.

So far, most Middle Eastern nations have neither endorsed nor dismissed the council.

But if it can show results, the council can build support among Iraqis and neighboring countries and increase the willingness of other nations to contribute to the U.S.-led effort, according to the European diplomat.

"You've got to get that positive cycle going," the diplomat said.

Within the U.S. government, there remains strong opposition to a larger U.N. role.

Pentagon officials fear that divided authority could undermine their efforts to deal both with security threats and administration of the country. Some U.S. officials are loath to see the French and Germans, who worked hard to block U.N. endorsement of the war, take part in rebuilding efforts.

Nevertheless, U.S. officials insist that they are keeping an open mind. John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York that American officials had not endorsed the idea of a new resolution for increased U.N. involvement, but neither had they ruled it out.

According to one diplomat, British officials have expressed a desire to organize discussion of the issue next month, when they take over presidency of the Security Council.

The issue is likely to be discussed far more before an Oct. 24 meeting in Madrid of countries that are potential donors to the Iraq rebuilding effort.

As the Security Council voted, some U.N. representatives made clear their desire for broader U.N. powers in Iraq.

China's new U.N. ambassador, Guangya Wang, said Thursday's resolution was the first step toward a broader U.N. role.

Syria's ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said, "We are supporting the United Nations' vital role to be more vital."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that he would support a new U.N. resolution, but added that U.N. members "are not ready to move on it yet."

A greater U.N. role would "help the U.S. become less of a target and help it transition out of Iraq faster," said Nancy Soderberg, who served as a deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. in the Clinton administration and now is vice president of the nonprofit International Crisis Group.

By declining to give the U.N. a larger role, the Bush administration is "simply keeping the burden on the United States and the U.S. forces for no good reason," she said. She said she believed that in time U.S. policymakers would decide they must take steps to share the burden.

The resolution adopted Thursday will create an office called the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq to improve oversight of the organization's operations there.

Annan has proposed the mission include a staff of more than 300 people. Abstaining from the otherwise unanimous vote was Syria, which has opposed the Iraqi Governing Council.

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