Senior U.S. and Iraqi officials are increasing pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to accept a more prominent United Nations role in Iraq. Diplomatic efforts are underway to improve cooperation between the world body and the Bush administration.
Washington's U.N. ambassador John Negroponte will sit down Friday in Secretary-General Annan's office for one-on-one talks on Iraq.
Thursday, Mr. Annan had a visit from the number two Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Chuck Hagel. Their hour and 15 minute meeting was primarily about Iraq, too.
This flurry of activity comes in advance of January 19. That when Mr. Annan wants top leaders from the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq to come to New York for a strategy session. The topic up for discussion is a sensitive one; what role, if any, the world body should play in Iraq's transition to self-rule.
The secretary-general pulled staff out of Iraq after two bomb attacks on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad - one of which killed 22 people. Even in the face of strong pressure from Washington, he has declined to send them back, saying the role coalition officials envision for them is not worth the security risk.
So when Mr. Annan summoned senior coalition officials to New York, clearly implying that he wants U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer to attend, the reaction in Washington was lukewarm. U.S. officials have been noncommittal about whether the CPA representative will be Mr. Bremer or a lower-level official.
Senator Hagel Thursday declined to describe his meeting with Mr. Annan as part of a mediation effort. But he told reporters he also spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell to emphasize the importance of the January 19 meeting.
"I've have been the United States senator who has been saying that the United Nations has vital critical role to play in Iraq," he said. "Certainly I said and I still believe we cannot stabilize Iraq and help the Iraqi people get to a position where they can govern themselves, defend themselves without a very significant United Nations presence and involvement. So the January 19 meeting is a very important meeting."
Senator Hagel said he sees a new appreciation in the Bush administration of the need for the United Nations to take a lead role in Iraq's transition to self-rule.
"Isn't it ironic today that many now in the administration and others in Washington are all clamoring to get the United Nations into Iraq, when six months ago it certainly wasn't that way with some in the administration," he said.
Leaders of the Iraqi Governing Council are also urging greater U.N. involvement. Members of the council have sent several letters stating their case to the secretary-general. The current president of the council and his successor will attend the January 19 meeting.
Security for any future U.N. staff, however, remains an area of prime concern. Secretary General Annan has repeatedly said he wants much tighter safety measures instituted before staff are reassigned to Baghdad. But a U.N. spokesman said this week that intensive preparations are already underway for the day, whenever it may be, that the world body reopens offices in the Iraqi capital.