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Iraq's FM Urges UN to Ensure Full Sovereignty for Interim Government - 2004-06-03

Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari is urging the U.N. Security Council to give Iraqis a full say over the presence of foreign troops in the country. But Mr. Zebari warned Council members that setting a fixed deadline for withdrawal of the multinational force would be unhelpful.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Security Council Iraq wants the U.S.-led multinational force to stay. But he said a draft Council resolution must ensure that Iraqi leaders have a voice in how long foreign troops remain, and how they operate.

"It is an objective reality in Iraq today that we require the continued assistance and partnership of these troops, but we also need this presence to be regulated under arrangements that neither compromise the sovereignty of the interim government nor the right of the multinational force to defend itself," he said.

Mr. Zebari welcomed the end of the U.S. led occupation, saying it would deprive terrorists and anti-democratic forces of a rallying point to foment violence.

But on the question of when the multinational force should leave, the Iraqi minister left room to maneuver. He said setting a deadline for the removal of foreign troops would encourage Iraq's enemies.

"A call for immediate withdrawal for fixed timetable for withdrawal would be unhelpful, and would be used by our enemies really to complicate the problems further," he said.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, who has been among those advocating a clearer definition of sovereignty, seemed satisfied with Iraq's acceptance of the continued presence of foreign troops on its soil. He spoke through a translator.

"We don't think they are contradictory, necessarily. It is possible to retain sovereignty with a sizable foreign military presence," he said.

U.S. ambassador John Negroponte, who will become ambassador to Baghdad next month, described formation of Iraq's interim government a momentous step, but warned that, in his words, terrorists are likely to redouble their insidious attacks.

"We must confront, with resolve and determination, those who seek to deny the Iraqi people the opportunity for democratic self-government and those who seek to sow instability, fear and terror in Iraq. The United States will not flinch from this task," he said.

Ambassador Negroponte expressed confidence the Security Council would adopt the Iraq resolution 'in short order'. Other members, however, indicated they want to hear from U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and perhaps other interim government officials before putting the measure to a vote.

Mr. Brahimi is to meet the Security Council privately during a closed retreat at an undisclosed location this weekend.