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UN Seeks Iraq Role Other than Replacing American Troops - 2004-02-24

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says the United Nations wants to provide direct support to Iraq in ways other than taking the place of American troops there.

Kofi Annan told Japanese lawmakers the United Nations will play a full role in Iraq once security improves there. At a subsequent news conference, Mr. Annan said some U.N. workers are already on the way back, but in limited numbers.

"Let us be clear," said Mr. Annan. "For the U.N. staff to go back in larger numbers and establish themselves, which we are prepared to do, the security condition must improve. Otherwise I risk repeating the experience of 19 August."

U.N. employees were evacuated from Iraq and its offices were closed last year, following a suicide bombing at its mission last August. The U.N. special representative in Iraq was among 22 people killed in that attack.

Mr. Annan praised Japan as a "paragon of international engagement" for its deployment of troops to Iraq for humanitarian purposes. But he added he does not foresee U.N. peacekeepers - the so-called "blue helmets" - being deployed in Iraq, although it is possible the Security Council could authorize a multi-national force to be deployed there.

Monday, the United Nations released a report on Iraq that says the country could be ready for direct elections by January of next year. It also calls for establishing a credible caretaker government before then.

Mr. Annan met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Afterward, both said they agreed the world body should be actively involved in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

During his speech to Japan's parliament - the first by a U.N. leader - Mr. Annan expressed his support for six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas begin a second round of talks Wednesday in Beijing.

On the emotional issue of North Korea's kidnappings of Japanese citizens, the Secretary General told Japanese lawmakers he hopes Tokyo and Pyongyang will fully resolve the matter and other outstanding diplomatic issues between them.