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US, UN Prepare For Talks On Iraq - 2004-01-10

The United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq are pushing ahead with talks that could lead to an early return of foreign U.N. staff to Baghdad. Senior coalition officials will come to New York later this month for three-party talks on Iraq's future.

Washington's U.N. ambassador says high-level coalition representatives will heed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's summons for talks at U.N. headquarters January 19.

After meeting Mr. Annan Friday, Ambassador John Negroponte would not say whether that representative would be U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer. But he said it would be someone suitable, considering the others at the meeting will be the secretary-general as well as the current and future presidents of the Iraqi Governing Council.

"I can tell you that the United States will be represented, and appropriately represented, I cannot identify for you at this moment who that representative will be," he said.

Ambassador Negroponte pointed out that during his meeting with Mr. Annan, he re-emphasized the coalition's belief that the United Nations should play a vital role in Iraq's transition to self-rule. He said the January 19 gathering will focus on addressing the secretary-general's concern for the safety of U.N. staff.

In addition, Iraqi and coalition officials will attempt to lay out what they see as the world body's role in Iraq between now and June, when the Iraqi governing council is due to take power.

"I think it's question of first of all knowing what duties and tasks, what kinds of numbers of people are being discussed," he said. "It makes a difference whether we're talking about dozens of people versus hundreds of people as to what kind of security arrangements are necessary, I think these are issues that can be managed, they have to be talked through in greater detail than we've been able to do until now."

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said earlier the secretary-general is keeping an open mind on the question of returning staff to Iraq. But he made it clear that Mr. Annan has not forgotten the deadly bomb attacks on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

"The situation on ground remains insecure. So the scope for a U.N. role is very much limited by the security factor. That's a fact of life," he said. "But I think everyone wants to see a successful transition to sovereignty in Iraq, and everyone has their thinking caps on as to the best way to do that."

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, also attended Friday's meeting with the secretary-general, but made no comment afterward. Britain has joined Washington in urging a speedy U.N. return to Iraq, and British officials say it is likely that Prime Minister Tony Blair's envoy in Baghdad, Jeremy Greenstock, will attend the January 19 talks in New York.