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Chances Good for Iraq Resolution

The U.S. makes a few symbolic concessions and seems to win the nine 'yeas' needed in a vote today on a plan for transferring power.

October 15, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — With a few additional but mostly symbolic concessions Tuesday, the United States seemed to secure a broad victory for a planned U.N. Security Council vote today on Iraq's future that had seemed doomed just last week.

Russia, France and Germany, with China's endorsement, proposed joint amendments Tuesday morning that would slightly loosen the U.S.-led occupation's grip on control of Iraq's transition to self-rule. While the U.S. and co-sponsor Britain did not accept all of the changes, they incorporated enough to allow at least some of their erstwhile opponents to feel that the U.S. did not close the door on their key requests.

Although U.S. officials don't think they have won the votes of all 15 members of the council -- France and Syria have been particularly hard to move -- adoption of the resolution after six weeks of roller-coaster negotiations would represent a significant victory for the U.S. at the Security Council and for the State Department within the Bush administration.

"This has been a six-week process. We have listened carefully," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said Tuesday night. "We have made changes designed to accommodate all the concepts they put forward, if not all the details."

The greatest movement came from those Security Council members who had initially resisted involvement in postwar Iraq, lest they be seen as supporting the occupation.

France, Russia and Germany, the occupation's principal opponents, dropped their demands that the United States hand over control to an Iraqi provisional government within a few months and allow the U.N. to guide Iraq's political transition to full sovereignty. They also accepted the creation of a multinational force under U.S. command, though few council members are expected to send troops.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was still quietly critical of the revised draft.

"The current resolution does not represent a major shift in the thinking of the coalition," Annan told reporters as he entered U.N. headquarters. But he said that he would support the resolution.

The fourth and latest version of the U.S. resolution gives the Iraqi Governing Council a Dec. 15 deadline to submit a timetable for drafting a new constitution and holding elections. France and U.N. leaders have pushed for a process modeled on Afghanistan's, where a provisional government holds power while the constitution is drafted and elections are organized.

The U.S. and Britain have insisted that they will hand over power only to a legitimately elected, representative government, though the draft contains a few loopholes that make a provisional government possible before elections -- a key concession.

In a strained attempt to address the demand for an immediate transfer of power, the U.S. resolution asks the Security Council to recognize the Iraqi Governing Council and its ministers as an entity that will "embody the sovereignty of Iraq." But the same draft makes clear that the "sovereignty" is merely symbolic and that the occupying authority retains all real control. Annan was politely dismissive of the attempt to meet his demand, calling it "a nice phrase." The U.S. granted Russia, France and Germany's requests for more Security Council oversight of the progress toward the transfer of power, requiring reports every six months on the multinational force.

It declined demands for a specific schedule for the progressive transfer of power and a deadline for the end of the occupation. Instead, the draft contains vague phrases like "as soon as praticable."

Washington's diplomatic strategy was to focus on Russia and Germany in order to isolate France, said U.S. officials, and in granting most of the amendments generated by Russia, it hopes to have won the veto-holding country over.

But Russian diplomats on Tuesday night said there was no guarantee of their positive vote.

France is expected to abstain. If Russia does indeed hold out, that could influence China and Germany -- and perhaps others -- to withhold their votes, significantly winnowing the moral weight of larger consensus.

Annan urged the council to keep working until it achieved the broadest support possible, since a divided vote would dilute the impact of the resolution in Iraq. The secretary-general privately blames a vaguely worded U.N. mandate for leading Iraqis to believe the U.N. was connected to the occupation, and worries that perception may have motivated the fatal attack on the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in August.

U.S. and British officials said nine countries had declared their intention to vote in favor. That is the minimum needed for the resolution to pass.

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