Vote On U.S. Iraq Plan At Hand

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The United States predicted that the Security Council will approve a new Iraq resolution despite its rejection of a key demand by France, Russia and Germany to add a timetable for the transfer of power to Iraqis.

Council diplomats said the resolution is likely to get at least the minimum nine "yes" votes needed for adoption on Wednesday. But the absence of a timetable diminished the possibility that it will be adopted with broad support from the 15 council members.

"It looks like the Americans are heading toward a divided vote — and a divided vote with nine countries in favor and probably five or six abstentions," said Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser. This will send the message "that there is no consensus in the council on how to proceed on the question of Iraq."

When the United States first talked about a new resolution six weeks ago, the primary aim was to get more countries to provide troops and money to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq. Those aims still hold, and the resolution would authorize a multinational force under U.S. command and call for "substantial pledges" from the 191 U.N. member states at a donors conference in Madrid, Spain on Oct. 23-24.

But the debate and focus of the resolution has shifted to the transfer of power from the British and American occupation to Iraqis. The French, Russians and Germans wanted a speedy transfer to a provisional Iraqi government but the United States and Britain insist that sovereignty can't be relinquished until Iraq drafts a new constitution and holds elections.

In an effort to reach a compromise with the United States on the pace of the transition from U.S. occupation, the three European powers made major concessions.

The timetable for a handover was the centerpiece of a package of amendments offered by the three opponents of the U.S.-led war. China supported their amendments.

They dropped their demands that power be handed over to an Iraqi provisional government within the next few months and that Secretary-General Kofi Annan be given the main political role in the transition.

Instead, the three countries proposed early Tuesday that Annan and the Security Council be given a role in establishing a timetable for transferring power, along with the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-picked Governing Council.

But the United States rejected the proposal, sticking with its original text that calls on the coalition "to return governing responsibilities and authorities to the people of Iraq as soon as practicable." Instead of a timetable, it added a request to the coalition to report to the Security Council "on the progress being made."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States "made every effort possible" to accommodate "the concepts but not necessarily all the details" in the amendments proposed by France, Russia and Germany.

But Washington only wanted one deadline in the resolution, which it proposed — Dec. 15 for the Iraqi Governing Council to submit a timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections, he said.

"We think the rest has to await developments on the ground rather than trying to artificially set a deadline here in New York," Negroponte told reporters after the council discussed the draft late into the night on Tuesday. "It's hard to predict things too far in advance."

French, Russian and German diplomats privately expressed disappointment at the rejection of the timetable but refused to comment publicly saying they needed to consult their capitals on the amended U.S. draft circulated Tuesday night.

Earlier, France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere rejected a suggestion that his country — which lobbied hard for power to be transferred to the Iraqis by the end of the year — had capitulated.

But he called the package of amendments that the three countries proposed "the minimum" that they would accept "in a spirit of compromise."

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said Moscow's position on the resolution will depend on "the readiness of the authors of the draft resolution to take into account these ideas of ours," the Interfax news agency reported.

As he left Tuesday night's council meeting, Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said: "I hope that the last version is not the last word."

But Negroponte signaled that negotiations were about to end.

"We'll be having a vote tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon on this draft Iraqi resolution," he said.

The draft to be voted on Wednesday is the third the U.S. has proposed since deciding to seek a Security Council endorsement of the reconstruction plan in order to get other countries to help with troops and money.

The first version, proposed in mid-September, called for the U.N. to authorize a multinational, U.S.-led force in Iraq but said little else about the U.N. role.

The second draft, circulated in early October, specified U.N. responsibilities in economic, humanitarian and political affairs but contained no timetable.

The latest version contains a deadline for a timetable for elections and a constitution, but not for a U.S. pullout. Early Wednesday, Iyad Allawi, the president of the Governing Council, said it will "definitely" hold elections in 2004.

The passage of the resolution does not guarantee aid or troops will be forthcoming, although in the past week Turkey has agreed to send peacekeepers and Japan to give $1.5 billion in aid.

For its part, however, the U.S.-appointed Governing Council has said it does not want any more foreign troops; Turkish soldiers are particularly distrusted because of disputed with Kurds in northern Iraq.