Secretary of State Colin Powell is defending the Bush administration's new draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq in the face of French and German concerns that it would not transfer political power to Iraqis quickly enough.
Mr. Powell met reporters less than an hour after critical comments on the U.S. initiative by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. And although he made clear he had not had time to fully assess their comments, the secretary rejected the notion that the draft resolution does not go far enough to ensure a rapid transition to Iraqi self-governance.
Appearing alongside his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini after an hour-long meeting, Mr. Powell said it was unclear from the European leaders' statements exactly what kind of political transition they are expecting in Iraq or to whom power would be handed over to if the transfer came in the short-term future.
Mr. Powell said the Bush administration would be "delighted" to get "constructive input" from the key European powers, but said the United States believes the best approach is to ask the Iraqis themselves what kind of democratic transition they would like, with a timetable of their choosing and not imposed from outside.
"Let us see what the Iraqis think they are capable of doing, and with what support from the international community, and that seems to me what we ought to do," said Mr. Powell. "And let us wait and see what they want to do. And that is what this resolution provides for.
"I think this resolution is drafted in a way that deals with concerns that leaders such as President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder have raised in the past," he continued. "And if they have suggestions, we would be more that happy to listen to their suggestions."
Mr. Frattini, whose government has given the Bush administration's Iraq policy strong political and material support including troops and police on the ground in Iraq, said he would put the U.S. plan on the agenda of the European Union foreign ministers meeting he hosts on Friday.
Mr. Frattini said the new U.S. plan, giving the United Nations a stronger mandate in Iraq as sought by many Europeans, provides an "important moment" for the European Union to again find unity on Iraqi policy.
"We Europeans, we have a very strong need to find again a strong cohesion within Europe regarding this very delicate theme of Iraq, that as you know has deeply divided Europe in the past," Mr. Frattini said. "For instance, divisions between countries like Italy which have participated fully in the 'Coalition of the Willing,' and other countries which have decided not to do so. At this moment, at play, at stake, is the future of the people of Iraq. That is why we think that every effort has to be made, no effort should be spared, to find a new resolution that would enable the Iraqi people to manage their future."
Under questioning, Mr. Powell also vehemently rejected a published report in the Washington Post newspaper that he had staged a bureaucratic end-run, excluding Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in getting President Bush to accept the idea of a U.N.-sanctioned force for Iraq.
Mr. Powell said the defense chief and other members of the Bush National Security team were involved in the deliberations on the approach to the United Nations "every step of the way" and he said the notion that he and Pentagon generals had influenced Mr. Bush at the exclusion of others was a "malicious fiction."