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Powell rejects idea of U.N. responsibility for new Iraq government

GENEVA—Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday strongly rejected a French and German proposal to have the United Nations take over responsibility for Iraq's new government from the U.S. civil administration, calling the idea "interesting, but not executable."

Speaking on the eve of a five-power meeting here to thrash out the future international role in Iraq, Powell said the United States would insist that the U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, working with Iraqis, be responsible for restoring Iraq's sovereignty.

The Europeans are "essentially proposing that we stop everything we've done. We have done too much and invested too much to consider any such proposal," he said.

Powell's blunt comments appeared to presage tough bargaining over a new U.N. resolution, which the Bush administration hopes will spur more nations to contribute troops and money to the troubled reconstruction effort in Iraq.

But the secretary, speaking on his plane en route to Geneva, expressed confidence that the disagreements can be bridged.

"It's hard to visualize any veto situation," Powell said, referring to the Security Council vetoes held by France, Russia and China, in addition to the United States and Britain. But he acknowledged he'd received no firm assurances on that score. He and the foreign ministers of the other four countries planned to meet Saturday.

France and Germany have proposed that the United Nations take over the lead role in setting up a new Iraqi government and returning full sovereignty to Iraq's people. Under their plan, U.N. representatives would work with the temporary, 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.

That would leave little effective role for the U.S. provisional authority established soon after the war and led by L. Paul Bremer.

A draft resolution sponsored by Washington and London calls on Iraqis to give the United Nations an accelerated timetable for full self-government. It preserves a central U.S. role in the political process and mandates American command of a multinational security force. The second point isn't controversial.

Powell, who questioned whether the United Nations has the wherewithal to assume the job in Iraq, was unusually undiplomatic in dismissing several ideas from France, which opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

He said a proposal by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin for elections in Iraq next spring was "totally unrealistic." It would be "delightful if one could do that, but one can't do that."

Powell, who spoke with de Villepin by phone three times this week, also suggested that the French government has an almost ideological opposition to the U.S. occupation in Iraq and views it as the problem there.

"It's easy to toss out nice theories about sovereignty and occupation and liberation and all of that, but as a practical matter, it can't happen in that time frame," he said.

Using a line he'd tried out in interviews with several European television stations Thursday, Powell said the United States was a liberating power, not an occupying one.

"We've done a lot of liberation of Europe after other Europeans had occupied parts of Europe. We restored sovereignty," he said, referring to the post-World War II reconstruction.

Powell said passage of the resolution could prompt countries to send a total of 15,000 more peacekeeping troops to Iraq, but wouldn't "unleash hordes and hordes of troops."

He also planned talks in Geneva with Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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Colin Powell.