President Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, said that an expanded international role there will be vital to Iraqi reconstruction and stability. Mr. Negroponte appeared Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considering his nomination.
Mr. Negroponte does not downplay the seriousness of violence in Iraq, he said that the future of a democratic transition depends on success in dealing with domestic extremists and foreign terrorists.
However, he underscored the importance of building what he calls a "robust multinational force," which, he added, would not contradict U.S. objectives in Iraq.
"With an expanded United Nations role in the political arena, I believe it will easier to generate the international support that the successful rehabilitation of Iraq requires," he said. "I want to be clear that a vital U.N. role does not come at the expense of U.S. influence or interests. Our efforts can be well-coordinated and complimentary."
Currently U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Negroponte said that he will work closely with U.N. envoy Lakdar Brahimi, who has been helping to lay the groundwork for the political transition in Iraq.
Mr. Negroponte's comments about international participation come against the background of Spain's withdrawal of its 1300 troops from Iraq and similar announcements by some other countries.
Committee chairman Senator Richard Lugar called greater international participation crucial to improving the legitimacy of an interim Iraqi government and in his words, "taking the American face off the occupation of Iraq."
Senator Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the committee, offered Mr. Negroponte this advice in working with an Iraqi interim government that is to take over from the coalition authority, led by U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer, on July 1.
"You should not become the new 'pro-consul,' once Ambassador Bremer leaves," he said. "Otherwise, we will continue to be viewed as the occupier. We will continue to be viewed and blamed for everything that goes wrong. We will continue to be viewed as the target of every mal-content in the country and that caretaker government in my view, I predict, will try to distance itself from us."
Mr. Negroponte said that he intends to establish what he calls "a supportive, but not commanding role" for the diplomatic mission in Iraq.
He was pressed by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and other lawmakers on the meaning of Iraqi "sovereignty," after the scheduled June 30 transfer of sovereignty and what impact that would have on continuing U.S. military operations.
HAGEL: "So, the question that I have asked you, the answer to that would be 'no,' in your terms, the "sovereign Iraqi government" [on] July 1 would not have veto authority over [U.S.] military involvement in Fallujah?"
NEGROPONTE: "I think you're asking for a 'yes' or 'no' answer in a particularly difficult circumstance."
HAGEL: "If they have sovereignty, Mr. Ambassador, what does that mean? Do they have sovereignty or don't they have sovereignty?" Mr. Negroponte said that he hopes the U.N. Security Council will begin debate next month on what he calls "a workable resolution" dealing with Iraq's governmental transition, and the role of the United Nations.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a vote on Mr. Negroponte's nomination later this week, after which it requires approval by the full Senate.
He said that he expects to take up his position at about the time of the June 30 transition to Iraqi sovereignty.