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Blair, Bush Back UN Iraq Power Transfer Plan - 2004-04-16

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are backing a U.N. plan for the transfer of political power in Iraq. The two leaders met at the White House Friday.

President Bush welcomed a plan being drawn up by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that would dissolve the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and appoint in its place a caretaker government by July 1.

"He has identified a way forward to establishing an interim government that is broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people," said president Bush.

That interim government would be chosen by the United Nations to lead Iraq toward elections in January of 2005, while coalition troops remain in the country to provide security.

Prime Minister Blair said it is a chance to move forward to a free and secure society.

"The new Iraq will give opportunities to all its citizens, whatever their ethnic or religious background, but it will not tolerate or compromise with those who want to wreck the future for the law-abiding majority in Iraq," he said.

This month's rise in violence in Iraq has raised questions for both leaders about plans for handing over political power. President Bush said sticking to the June 30 deadline shows that the coalition came to Iraq to liberate the country, not occupy it.

"No citizen of America or Britain would want the government of their nation in the hands of others," he said. "And neither do the Iraqis. And this is why the June 30 date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept. This transfer will demonstrate to the Iraqi people that our coalition has no interest in occupation."

Prime Minister Blair has been under domestic pressure to confront President Bush over U.S. tactics in Iraq, which have been criticized by two former top British officials as excessively violent and counterproductive.

Mr. Blair said the purpose of military action is to create the security environment in which the political aims can be achieved.

"And of course there will be resistance," said Mr. Blair. "We have resistance now by assorted terrorists in Fallujah and by supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf. We shall deal with both, with the right balance of firmness in the face of terror, and a clear offer to all people in Iraq, including those who might be tempted to support law breaking."

Mr. Blair met in New York Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The prime minister said he and Mr. Bush both support a new U.N. resolution to smooth Iraq's political transition.