The Re-United Nations

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The world's powers yesterday called a truce over Iraq as the United Nations Security Council prepared at last to give unanimous backing to a new resolution charting Baghdad's next steps towards self-government and self-determination.

The world's powers yesterday called a diplomatic truce over the tragedy in Iraq as the United Nations Security Council at last gave unanimous backing to a new resolution charting Baghdad's next perilous steps towards self-determination.

Tony Blair, as he arrived for the G8 summit in Georgia, said the resolution would herald a new era in the post-war approach on Iraq. "This is an important milestone for the new Iraq," he said. "We all now want to put the divisions of the past behind us and unite behind a modern, democratic and stable Iraq that could be a force for good, not just for Iraqis, but for the whole region and therefore the wider, whole world.''

The 15-0 vote marked a moment for the acrimony over Iraq, which has crippled the Security Council and pitted allies against allies, to be set aside. As one, the world has concluded that one thing matters now: finding a way to end the bloodshed and chaos.

While the wrangling persisted until the end on the precise content of the resolution, the atmosphere in the council could not be more changed compared with a little over a year ago when the majority flatly refused to endorse the US-led invasion.

The new text returns sovereignty to Iraq and gives international legitimacy to the new interim government, which is to take control after 30 June. It endorses for the first time the American-led forces that will remain there and defines the role of the UN in assisting in the transition towards democracy. The resolution's broad intent is in its second article, which states that "by 30 June 2004, the occupation will end and the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, and that Iraq will reassert its full sovereignty".

As he welcomed leaders of the G8 nations in Sea Island, Georgia, President George Bush said the vote showed the Security Council was "interested in working together to make sure Iraq is free, peaceful and democratic". He added: "These nations understand that a free Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East, which is an important part of winning the war on terror." But as Iraq remains consumed by violence, words on a page cannot in themselves quell the mounting insurgency or show Iraqis the way to long-term peace. The text offers a new underpinning to the interim government, both domestically and abroad, but there is no predicting what convulsions Iraq may yet suffer. And only if the violence can be better contained can the UN even begin its job of guiding the country towards direct elections. But achieving unity in the Security Council on Iraq is a breakthrough that had once seemed beyond reach.

The issue of Iraq has dogged the council and sabotaged its cohesion from the moment of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and harsh sanctions were imposed. Resentments became bitter recriminations when Britain and the US finally invaded.

The coincidence of the UN with the start of the G8 summit was no accident. America pushed hard for it. But it also gave much ground. The breakthrough in negotiations came last weekend when the interim Prime Minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, sent a letter to the council addressing the most sensitive issue of all: the nature of the relationship between his government and the multinational force. He said that Iraq wanted the force to stay and that he would create a security committee that would form a partnership with foreign commanders.

France tried to push the issue further, asking that the resolution give the interim government the power to veto sensitive offensive operations by the foreign forces. It did not win that argument. However, at the last moment, London and Washington agreed not only to annex Mr Allawi's letter on security arrangements to the resolution, as well as a positive reply from Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, but also to insert a paragraph into the body of the text referring to the letters and their description of a "security partnership between the interim government of Iraq and the multinational force".

Mr Blair and Mr Bush will hold their first bilateral meeting at the conference this morning to discuss implementation of the resolution, which gives commanders on the ground the authority to direct attacks against insurgents without a veto by the interim Iraqi government.

France's Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, acknowledged yesterday that Paris was not entirely satisfied with the outcome but that it was ready to vote in favour to "help find a positive way out of this tragedy". His government had "obtained lots of improvements". And he described a different face of American policy. "There was real dialogue for the first time in this affair." The resolution sets out a schedule for political transition beginning with the assumption of control by the interim government on 30 June and culminating ­ if all goes as foreseen ­ with direct elections for a fully fledged government in January 2006. That is also the date by which the multinational force will in theory be withdrawn.

In Berlin, the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he hoped "that now there will finally be a stabilisation of the security situation in Iraq".

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