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Annan Praises Geneva Talks on Iraq's Future - 2003-09-13

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called talks with foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members on Iraq's future very good. But more remains to be done to bridge differences between the United States and France over proposed security and political arrangements in Iraq.

Mr. Annan said the Geneva talks on Iraq would lay the basis for more intensive discussions in New York later this month involving the other 10 members of the Security Council.

"Consensus is essential and achievable, but consensus is not enough," he said. " The Council's approach must be coherent and well-defined. We all share the aspirations to transfer power to the Iraqi people as soon as possible."

At stake is a draft U.N. resolution, put forward by the United States, calling for a multinational military force for Iraq under U.S. command.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin says his country will only support the resolution, if the United States transfers political authority to Iraqis very quickly.

He says the resolution should contain a timetable putting a provisional Iraqi government in place within a month, followed by a draft constitution by the end of the year and elections next spring.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier called the French plan "totally unrealistic." But he told reporters in Geneva that both sides would continue to work for a common position.

"I will leave this meeting encouraged with the points of convergence, but also recognizing that there are still some difficulties and differences that have to be worked out," Mr. Powell said. " What we are all committed to is - as the secretary-general said - is to put authority back in the hands of the Iraqi people for their own destiny, for their own future, as fast as is possible, but do it in a responsible way."

With both casualties and the cost of military operations mounting in Iraq, the United States sees its draft U.N. resolution as a way to persuade other countries to share responsibility for Iraq's future by providing troops and cash.

The United Nations, for its part, says the humanitarian community requires adequate protection to function in the country and a clear agenda of how authority will be transferred to the Iraqis.