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Annan Hopes UN Team Can Help Resolve Iraq Election Impasse - 2004-02-03

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he will send a diplomatic team to Iraq to help resolve a dispute over choosing a transitional government. Mr. Annan made the announcement in a meeting with President Bush.

Secretary General Annan says everyone agrees that Iraqi sovereignty should be restored as soon as possible. But there are disagreements over how a transitional government is formed, with U.S. administrators calling for regional caucuses and influential Shi'ite clerics calling for more direct elections.

Mr. Annan said the political team he is sending to Iraq will try to steer things in the right direction, toward a government that assures Iraq's political and economic future. "We do have a chance to help break the impasse which exists at the moment and move forward," he said.

U.S. officials say they intend to hand over power by the end of June and do not believe that leaves enough time to organize fresh elections in a country long dominated by Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

Secretary General Annan said the Bush Administration has agreed to abide by the U.N. decision about how best to choose a transitional government. He said the team will talk to as many people as possible toward finding the way forward in Iraq. "I hope this team I am sending in will be able to play a role, getting the Iraqis to understand that if they could come to some consensus and some agreement on how to establish that government, they are halfway there," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush welcomes the secretary general's decision to send a political team to Iraq.

President Bush said the United Nations has a vital and important role in shaping the country's post-war future. "We have discussed ways to make sure that by working together the Iraqi people can be free and the country stable and prosperous and an example of democracy in the Middle East. And the United Nations has a vital role there and I look forward to working with the Secretary General to achieve that," he said.

The president says the two men also had a constructive dialogue on Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Middle East peace process, and Africa. They continued their talks over lunch in the White House.