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UN Ready to Aid in Transfer of Power in Iraq - 2003-11-17

Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the United Nations is preparing to play an active role in the transfer of power to a provisional government in Iraq. But, Mr. Annan admits security concerns may limit the world body's ability to act.

Secretary General Annan says both the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council are asking for a more prominent U.N. role in the hand over of power to a provisional government.

Mr. Annan says Secretary of State Colin Powell has briefed him about the U.S. plan to turn over power to Iraqis by June. He said Mr. Powell and others, including coalition deputy administrator Jeremy Greenstock and Iraqi Governing Council President Jalal Talabani were among those urging a prominent U.N. presence.

"I'm encouraged by the development. We're going to study the plan very, very carefully," he said. "I've spoken to Ambassador Greenstock, Secretary of State Powell, and Talabani, who is president of the Iraqi Governing Council [who briefed me on the plan and their desire] for the U.N. to play active role, particularly from the part of Mr. Talabani."

Mr. Annan says his staff is looking at ways of operating inside the country, circumstances permitting. But unless security conditions improve sufficiently to allow foreign staff to return, he says much of the world body's mission in Iraq may have to be carried out by remote control.

"Obviously, we are monitoring the situation on a daily basis, so if the situation improves, we will be ready to go back," he said. "But as I indicated, we don't need to be in Iraq 100 percent to do what we can do or offer assistance. So we are looking at what we can do outside and cross-border, and eventually inside."

Mr. Annan also said he hopes to name a replacement soon for special envoy to Iraq Sergio de Mello. Mr. de Mello was among 22 people killed in the August 19 attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

The secretary general ordered all foreign U.N. staff out of Baghdad after that and other attacks against humanitarian operations. A panel investigating the Baghdad bombing concluded that poor security had probably contributed to the loss of life, and recommended a full security overhaul before the U.N. re-establishes a presence in the Iraqi capital.