Bremer, in Washington, Discusses Transition in Iraq with Top U.S.
Bush administration willing to consider "clarifications" of process
By Wendy Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington -- Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, discussed developments in Iraq with President Bush and top national security officials at the White House January 16.
He told reporters as he left the White House that the Bush administration is "prepared to seek clarifications in the process [returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people] that was laid out in the November 15th agreement," between the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council.
Bremer met again, later in the day, at the State Department with Secretary of State Colin Powell, and on Monday, January 19, he is to meet at United Nations headquarters in New York with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
Bremer said "We are hoping that in those meetings on Monday we will be able once again to state the importance that the American government and the coalition attach to the United Nations playing a vital role in the political and economic developments in Iraq, and in finding a way to move forward with the implementation of the agreement of November 15th to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people in the middle of the year, June 30th.
"That is the main purpose of my visit back here," Bremer said.
The November 15 agreement calls for turning over political power in Iraq from the CPA to a transitional Iraqi government in June following caucuses
(meetings) in Iraq's 18 provinces to choose representatives to select national assembly members. That assembly would then choose members of a transitional government to whom the CPA is to transfer sovereignty by July 1.
That transitional government is to hold free, fair, open and direct elections by the end of 2005.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest ranking Shiite religious leader, is demanding direct elections for choosing a transitional government and on January 15 thousands of Shiite Muslims in Iraq rallied in support of his position.
"We have doubts, as does the secretary-general, that elections can in fact be called in the time frame of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th," Bremer said. "But these are questions that obviously need to be looked at.
"We have said that we are prepared to seek clarifications in the process that was laid out in the November 15th agreement, the ways in which the selection of the transitional assembly is carried forward, and I think that's one of the areas that we will obviously be talking to the secretary-general and his colleagues about."
At his noon briefing for reporters, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said "we've always said that we want to work with the Iraqis and assist them to -- if there are ways to refine or improve the November 15th agreement, but that it should be within that existing framework."
McClellan noted that U.N. Secretary-General Annan has indicated to the people of Iraq that direct elections at this time are not the best way forward.
"[I]t's important to have the institutions for democracy and elections in place so that you can have free and fair and open elections. And we're moving forward quickly on that effort. And the November 15th agreement is a way to get there," McClellan said.
Asked if there could be some "tweaking of the process" that might include direct election of some regional leaders in the caucuses that are taking place across Iraq, McClellan pointed out that the November 15th agreement was a framework, and "we've said from the get-go that we are willing to discuss refinements or improvements within the framework of the November 15th agreement."
"[T]here is a lot of discussion about the way forward with the Governing Council and with other Iraqis," McClellan said. "And the decision was made that it was important to move forward, in a quick and orderly way, to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people by the end of June. And that was something that the Iraqis were very involved in and very much driving. And so we are working with them to continue that dialogue and within that framework."
Asked about the role of the United Nations in Iraq, McClellan reminded reporters that the United Nations was playing a role inside Iraq before the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad came under a terrorist attack.
"And so the U.N. was there, helping assist and playing an important role.
"And we've always said that we believe the United Nations has a vital role to play in helping the Iraqi people move toward a free and democratic future. And in fact, I would remind you that there were three Security Council resolutions passed calling on the United Nations to play a vital role, most recently Resolution 1511.
"We believe very strongly that the United Nations has a lot of special expertise that they can provide when it comes to elections and when it comes to the drafting of a constitution. We are hopeful that they will be able to return soon. They were playing an important role; we want them to continue to play an important role. And so we'll work with the United Nations to address any concerns that they might have regarding security. Those are issues that we can work with them on. And we look forward to continuing to have discussions with the United Nations," McClellan said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters January 16 that high on the list of topics in the discussions with Bremer was the upcoming meeting in New York and "how we can get the U.N. more involved in the political transition, what we can do for the U.N.'s security needs, things like that; and as well as the issues of moving from Ambassador Bremer's structure of the Coalition Authority to the new structure that will take over for the United States when the Iraqis have a transitional administration."
posted Jan 21, 2004