Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congressmen Wednesday he expects the United Nations to play a coordinating, though not dominant, role in the post-war administration of Iraq and the eventual return of power to Iraqi civilian authorities.
Mr. Powell has spoken before about what the United States and its allies intend to do about the administration of Iraq after the anticipated fall of Saddam Hussein's government.
But his comments to a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday were his most detailed to date about the subject, and, in particular, the role envisaged for the United Nations.
The secretary said plans call for the military administration of the country immediately after the departure of the current regime to be followed by a U.S. civilian authority. But he said almost simultaneously, an Iraqi interim administration would start to take shape that would form the "nucleus" of a new civilian government.
He said the interim administration would include both Iraqi exiles and those from inside the country, and that the United Nations would take part in the process through a special coordinator and an enabling resolution from the Security Council.
"We will put in place what we're calling an Iraqi interim administration, start to bring together Iraqis who have been outside the country and those inside the country into some kind of an organization that would provide the nucleus of a new government," he said. "And we would do this with the full understanding of the international community and with a U.N. presence in the form of a U.N. special coordinator, although the name and title has not been finally decided upon. But with U.N. recognition of what we're doing and some level of endorsement in the form of a new U.N. resolution.
Mr. Powell assured subcommittee members leery about U.N. participation that most of the responsibility for running a post-war Iraq, what he termed the "center of gravity", would remain with the coalition partners.
But he said there is "great utility" in having the United Nations also play a role and provide international legitimacy for the transition process.
Mr. Powell said the issue would be a major point of discussion in Camp David talks late Wednesday and Thursday between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The British leader has pressed the Bush administration to move as quickly as possible from the military phase to a U.N.-supervised Iraqi government, and to initiate early talks aimed at easing tensions with European countries opposed to the war.