America seeks UN resolution before handover of power

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The Independent Online

The US and Britain yesterday stepped up their efforts to forge an international consensus on Iraq ahead of the transfer of sovereignty, due in barely six weeks. But their plans face opposition from France and Russia in a diplomatic climate made even more awkward by the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

The US and Britain yesterday stepped up their efforts to forge an international consensus on Iraq ahead of the transfer of sovereignty, due in barely six weeks. But their plans face opposition from France and Russia in a diplomatic climate made even more awkward by the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

In a symbolic bid to mend broken fences with traditional US allies, President Bush invited the foreign ministers of the G8 group of leading industrial countries to visit the White House as they meet in Washington to prepare for next month's summit at Sea Island, Georgia. That meeting is certain to be dominated by the Middle East and Iraq. After the session Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, will attend an economic conference in Jordan, a mission whose purpose is to improve the US's dismal standing the Arab world.

In a similar gesture, Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's national security adviser, heads this weekend to Moscow, where she will try to enlist Russian support for the United Nations resolution planned by Britain and the US that would formalise the UN's role in Iraq and set out an internationally agreed framework for handover of power.

She will then travel to Berlin to meet Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian Prime Minister. That is also an abrupt volte-face after months of White House excoriation of the Palestinians for not tackling terrorism and Mr Bush's endorsement last month of Israel's plans to retain settlement blocks on the West Bank.

British officials were optimistic yesterday about a new UN resolution, saying informal talks were going well and that a draft resolution might be ready for circulation to the Security Council within two weeks. However, France and Russia, which both hold veto power, are raising objections. Both want the new Iraqi provisional government - due to take over on July 1 - to be given more powers than the US plans. Michel Barnier, the French Foreign Minister, told Le Monde newspaper: "The UN resolution must ensure the government ... has the capacity to govern."

Both states want a major UN-sponsored conference to be convened before the handover, to give the new Iraqi government greater legitimacy. Representatives of other Arab countries, Iraqi and coalition delegates would also be included.

Another dispute is over the role of the Allied military force that will remain in Iraq after the handover. British officials concede the chain of military authority and the provisional Iraqi government's place in it remain sticking points.

The Bush administration has left no doubt that ultimate authority for security issues will reside with the occupying military - and thus with the huge new US Embassy in Baghdad, to be headed by ambassador-designate John Negroponte. The authority will have 3,000 staff.

But Paul Bremer, the outgoing head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said yesterday that the US military would leave if asked to do so by the incoming government. "We don't stay in countries where we're not welcome," he said.

One casualty of the prisoner abuse scandal has been the US-drafted "Greater Middle East Initiative", which was to have been a major component of the G8 summit. The scheme has been watered down and retitled the "G8 Plan of Support for Reform". Western diplomats acknowledge that the timing could hardly be worse.

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