France, Germany, Russia and China insisted Wednesday that Iraq's new interim leaders be allowed to participate in Security Council negotiations on the terms of a U.S. and British resolution on the country's political transition, potentially delaying plans to put the text to a vote as early as next week.
With the United States preparing to transfer power to the interim government on June 30, France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, proposed that the 15-nation council deliberate for two weeks with a slate of Iraqi leaders to be named by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the coming days.
The resolution would mark the formal handover of power to a "sovereign interim government" but establish an open-ended mandate for a U.S.-led multinational force to impose security and fight insurgents challenging the new government.
John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Iraq, said the council must move more quickly to adopt the resolution. "That just gets you up too close to the time of the actual transfer of sovereignty," he said.
The call for delay was one of a series of proposals Security Council members floated in a closed-door session. Most were aimed at pressing the United States to give the council and the Iraqis greater authority over the country's political future.
China presented a paper urging the United States and Britain to give Iraq's interim government control over its own police and troops. It also proposed that the mandate for U.S. and other foreign forces in Iraq expire in January 2005, when a new government is to be elected. Only the Security Council would have the authority to extend the mandate.
France and Germany, meanwhile, joined Britain in pressing the United States to grant the interim government authority to veto military operations by foreign forces on their soil. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush's chief ally in Iraq, said Tuesday that the U.S.-led multinational force will require Iraq's consent to conduct some military operations after June 30.
Negroponte said U.S. operations will be conducted with "the consent and approval" of Iraqi authorities. But he said "the mechanics and the details" of that arrangement "will be worked out on the ground between the political and military authorities on both sides."
The interim government, which will administer the country until the national elections are held by January 2005, will include a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents.
Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for Brahimi, issued a statement Wednesday saying that "progress is being made" in selecting a new government that "will have sufficient time to prepare to assume power and engage in meaningful consultations" on the resolution. Fawzi said Brahimi was not prepared to discuss the names of potential members of the new government "so as not to risk undermining the process."
But he sought to play down reports that a Shiite scientist, Hussain Shahristani, was the leading candidate for prime minister. Brahimi "has no doubt that Shahristani could serve his country well in a number of positions in government," Fawzi said. "Mr. Shahristani, however, has himself clarified that he would prefer to serve his country in other ways."