The U.N. Security Council has extended the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for another year. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the vote was unanimous.
The Council acted quickly to extend the mandate of the 160,000-strong force on the eve of a meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The two leaders are to meet in Jordan Wednesday to discuss ways of responding to the latest surge of sectarian violence in Iraq.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said he was especially pleased that the extension was unanimously approved before the Bush-Maliki talks. "I think its shows not just to the United States but all the countries in the region that the Security Council remains strongly of the view that we need to see stability in Iraq and continued progress toward democracy, and I think the fact that it was unanimous vote shows that all the countries want to contribute to it," he said.
Prime Minister Maliki wrote to the Security Council earlier this month, saying his government gives top priority to seeing Iraqi forces take full control of security throughout the country. But Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati told reporters Tuesday it would be impossible to predict when that might happen.
"Putting a timetable or deadline will be difficult for anybody. Why [is] it is so difficult because we can't speculate on when the Iraqi forces will be able to maintain security, and until such a time the Iraqi forces will be able to guard the borders or Iraq, which are long borders with neighbors, and until the police force is capable of maintaining security inside Iraq, then it would [not] be so difficult to withdraw the multinational force from Iraq, "he said.
The extension was approved at a time of intense debate in the United States about the wisdom of setting a troop withdrawal timetable. President Bush said Tuesday he will not pull the troops out until their mission is complete.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke this week to a U.S. Study Group on Iraq headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democrat Congressman Lee Hamilton. Mr. Annan told reporters he had made several recommendations to the group. Among them, he said, is that Iran and Syria should work with the international community to resolve the conflict. "I have been quite clear that the two countries have a role to play, and they should become part of the solution, and we should bring them in and get them to work with us in resolving the issue, and let them assume some of the responsibility," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Bolton reacted coolly to Mr. Annan's suggestion, saying "we take due note".
President Bush Tuesday rejected unconditional talks with Iran about Iraq. He said Tehran would first have to suspend uranium enrichment. But Mr. Bush said it is up to Iraq to decide on what its relationship with its neighbors will be.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spent a second day in the Iranian capital Tuesday, where he met Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Monday, Mr. Talabani met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. During the meeting, Mr. Ahmedinejad was reported to have offered to help restore security in Iraq if Baghdad asks.