America is poised to table a new resolution before the UN in an increasingly desperate attempt to persuade more countries to provide troops for Iraq.
Amid signs of a rift reopening among the Security Council's permanent members, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said officials were working on the language for a new resolution that would encourage countries to provide troops, money and other assistance to the Allies. But he made clear that the US was not prepared to hand authority for any international force to the UN.
"We have said all along that we want the UN to play a vital role. The issue of ceding authority is not an issue we have had to discuss today," he said during a joint press conference at the UN headquarters in New York with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general. "You have to have control of a large military organisation. That's what US leadership brings to the coalition."
Mr Powell said that 30 countries, including Britain, were already providing more than 20,000 troops with a further four ready to commit forces. Another 14 countries were considering the matter, he said.
Britain has been pressing for a greater UN role in Iraq, though officials at the UN said they were not expecting the US to cede authority. Rather, they talk of the new resolution (a draft of which could be circulated as soon as today) providing "cover" for those countries, which may be reluctant to provide troops for domestic reasons. The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, will discuss the issue with Mr Annan today in the hope of being able to draw Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt, into the peace-keeping effort.
But France, which has a veto in the council, is warning that it will only provide troops if the Allies hand over political and military control to the UN. Other countries, including India, Pakistan and Turkey, have also ruled out contributing troops to anything other than a UN force.
Without American agreement to cede some control to the world body, diplomats said the possibility of a robust international force appeared unlikely to attract new support. In the aftermath of Tuesday's bomb attack on the UN offices in Baghdad, which killed at least 23 people, some countries that had offered troops are having second thoughts. Japan has postponed deployment of the 1,000 troops it was going to send and Shigeru Ishiba, the head of the Japan's defence department, said: "A dispatch may not be feasible this year. It doesn't seem out of the question that [Japanese troops] could be targeted for attack." Thailand, which was to send 400 soldiers, is also reviewing its position and Thaksin Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, said he had asked senior officers to evaluate the safety of Iraq.
One US official said: "We are going to be looking to see if there are ways to entice them to contribute. We are aware that people are apprehensive."
Mr Annan, who held a video-linked question-and-answer session with UN employees around the world yesterday, led the organisation in a minute's silence for those who were killed when the suicide bomb was exploded.
"There were divisions before the war, but we all realise that it is urgent to help bring peace to Iraq," he said. "And an Iraq that is destabilised, an Iraq that is in chaos, is not in the interests of the region or the world. And we do have a responsibility to ensure that."
At the UN yesterday, Mr Straw said: "No one should be in any doubt now that ... terrorism is not just against the United States or against the United Kingdom or against Israel. This is a war against the world, and attacking the United Nations was an attack on the international community, on the world, and it's an attack on the people of Iraq."Reuse content