Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday the United States is sticking with plans for handing over power in Iraq to a provisional government by June 30. But he says the Bush administration is prepared to listen to alternate proposals from the team being sent to Iraq by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Powell's comments, on the sidelines of the Liberia donors conference at the United Nations, came amid press reports that the U.S. plan for handling over power in Iraq may undergo major changes from the formula agreed upon with the Iraqi Governing Council last November 15.
In a talk with reporters, Mr. Powell insisted the Bush administration is staying with current plans for the selection of a provisional government through regional caucuses, as opposed to the direct elections sought by among others, Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric.
However, he said U.S. officials are prepared to listen to any recommendations from the U.N. team which is heading to Iraq to, among other things, assess the feasibility of a direct vote for an interim government:
"I don't want to get into what they might report and what we might do with their report," said Mr. Powell. "Let's wait and see what their report says. And of course, we would take whatever they say into account as we move forward. But for now we're sticking with the plan, and the Governing Council is sticking with the plan. They're hard at work on the administrative law, and hard at work on the other elements of the 15 November plan."
Amid resistance to the idea of indirect elections to choose a transitional government, led by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, U.S. officials have been saying for some time that they are open to "refinements" of the November 15 plan for self-rule.
However, The Washington Post newspaper quoted senior U.S. and United Nations officials Friday as saying it was increasingly likely that major changes would be made. It said one option is pushing back the June 30 deadline for installing the new government to allow enough time for the direct elections demanded by the Shiite cleric.
The Bush administration has been opposed to an extension because it would prolong control by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and anger Iraqis who want an early restoration of sovereignty.
The U.N. team is to begin its canvassing of political figures in Iraq in the next few days but it is unclear when it might return to New York with alternate proposals, if any.