In an unusually critical response to a new U.S. draft resolution on Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued an ultimatum Thursday: Either give the United Nations a leading role in the nation’s political transition or the world body won’t be involved in Iraq at all.
Steeled by two attacks on the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in a month, Annan said that a new resolution must provide “a radical change” that could safeguard the U.N.'s staff and the mission’s independence from the U.S.-led occupation, said diplomats and U.N. officials who attended the session. And he said that the changes offered by the Bush administration do neither.
“Obviously, it’s not going in the direction I had recommended,” he told reporters earlier Thursday.
In a closed-door luncheon with the Security Council after the 15 members discussed the U.S. proposal, the diplomats and officials said the usually soft-spoken Annan delivered a stern message to the group: They should pursue a resolution they all can support, but he was not going to risk his people for a marginal role.
“It was like a cold shower,” said Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Munoz. “He was very realistic about how he feels about the U.N. role.”
Annan had suggested that to reduce the hostility in Iraq toward the occupying powers and others, such as the U.N. staffers, who were perceived to be helping them, there should be a symbolic shift of sovereignty within a few months to an Iraqi provisional government. Then the U.N. or the U.S.-led administration of Iraq -- but not both -- could work with the Iraqis on drafting a constitution and setting up elections. The Iraqis would invite a U.S.-led multinational force to stay and help stabilize the country.
“Obviously, that is not what is in the draft,” Annan said after the luncheon. “This had been my suggestion in the sense that it may change the dynamics on the ground, in terms of the security situation, and send a message to the Iraqi people and also to the region.”
Annan’s message chilled the council’s reaction to the new draft, which was circulated by the U.S. delegation Wednesday after weeks of consultations with nations who opposed the war and have resisted aiding the occupation. The version offers several concessions, including an expanded but not central role for the U.N., and a multinational force under U.S. command that would make progress reports to the Security Council. It also calls for an accelerated transition to self-rule, directed by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, with help from the world body and the U.S.-led coalition.
But it did not include the significant changes that Annan and many nations were looking for -- especially a symbolic end to the occupation.
Annan rejected the idea that both the world body and the occupying authorities could guide the political transition, comparing it to “a horse with two jockeys,” a U.N. official said.
Squaring off with the U.S. pains the normally nonconfrontational Annan. But shaken by the attacks on his organization in Iraq, and faced with a revolt within the U.N. staff, he was moved to take a firm stand.
Even before the session with Annan, reaction to the new resolution had been lukewarm. The strongest criticism had come from France and Germany, which complained that none of their joint proposals had been incorporated in the new text.
After the luncheon, diplomats from France, China, Russia, Mexico and Germany said they needed fresh instructions from their capitals because it made no sense to pursue a resolution that Annan found so unsatisfactory.
“This changes the whole thing,” said one council diplomat. “It puts everything on hold.”
U.S. officials said Thursday that they may seek a vote on the resolution toward the end of next week but at this point still anticipate at least six members choosing to abstain. A resolution needs nine of 15 votes in favor, and no vetoes, to pass, so one more abstention would kill it.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said an American official who requested anonymity. Discussions will resume Monday.
Despite the resistance, there was no sign of a pullback from Washington on Thursday. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell dismissed the idea of handing even nominal authority to an Iraqi provisional government before a constitution is drafted and elections held. The U.S. assumed the responsibility to administer the country as a result of the conflict, he said, and would hold on to it.
“This isn’t an effort at our part to hang on for as long as we can,” he told reporters at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. “We want to move this process along as quickly as possible.
“But I think it’s a bit naive to suggest that anytime in the next couple of weeks or months you can simply say, ‘Here are 25 people. They seem to be getting along. Let’s give them responsibility for the country.’ They don’t have the ability to exercise responsibility or authority over the whole country yet.”
Times staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.