Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says a group of Iraqis will meet in Baghdad Monday to discuss procedures for developing an Iraqi interim authority, a move Mr. Wolfowitz calls an important step forward.

Speaking in Washington to a group of reporters who work for media outlets in the Middle East, Mr. Wolfowitz said Monday's meeting will be the second since the end of Saddam Hussein's regime to tackle the work of setting up a new government in Baghdad and a new future for Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz said Iraqis will set the agenda for discussions related to the creation of an interim government.

"This should accelerate the dialog and transition to the establishment of an Iraqi interim authority," he pointed out. "That authority should be broad-based and representative of all the Iraqi people, including members of all religious and ethnic groups. It should listen to Iraqis and devise ways in which the new government will come into being."

Mr. Wolfowitz said the interim authority will initially have two main functions. The first will be to take over as quickly as possible, responsibility for the administration of basic aspects of government in Iraq.

The deputy defense secretary said even more important will be for the interim authority to lead the way to the formation of a new democratic government.

According to Mr. Wolfowitz, the interim authority will also work on drafting a constitution, developing legal and economic reforms and organizing elections.

Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out the interim authority may also consider drafting what he called "a bill of freedoms" to protect the rights of all Iraqis to free speech, freedom of religion and the sanctity of private property.

He reiterated that the United States and other coalition countries have no interest in governing or occupying Iraq.

The deputy defense secretary also said a free and democratic Iraq will have a positive impact on the Middle East and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I can't help but think that the existence of a free and democratic country in the Middle East and particularly one of the largest and most important countries in the Arab world, is going to have an important and positive influence both on political development and the peace process, at least in the medium to long run and perhaps in the short run," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz added that the Pentagon wants to pull U.S. soldiers out of Iraq as soon as possible, and says they will not stay in the country one day more than is necessary.