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Russia wants 'realistic' timeline on Iraq
( 2003-09-30 09:42) (Agencies)

Signaling room for compromise with the United States, Russia said Monday it wants a "realistic but short" timeline for handing over power in Iraq and is prepared to accept a stage-by-stage transition provided the United Nations receives a major political role.

But old rifts between supporters and opponents of the U.S.-led war kept the European Union from forging a united position on when the United States should cede power.

The EU divisions also highlighted the difficulties ahead for the United States in trying to reach agreement on a new U.N. resolution that President Bush hopes will bring more troops and money into Iraq.

As U.S. officials worked on a revised resolution, there was a general welcome for Secretary of State Colin Powell's proposal last Thursday for Iraqis to adopt a constitution in six months and hold elections perhaps in a little more than a year.

Powell made clear in weekend interviews, however, that the United States will not relinquish power until a democratically elected Iraqi government is in place a view supported by Britain, which joined Washington in the war.

But that was far too long for France, which led the opposition to the war. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin reiterated Monday that "France insists on the implementation of a rapid transfer of power ... within several months." On Sunday, he said France would like to see sovereignty transferred to Iraqis by the end of the year.

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Yuri Fedotov, whose country also opposed the war, indicated more flexibility after this weekend's meetings between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Camp David.

"Russia's position is that we, of course, believe that the sooner the sovereignty of Iraq is restored the better it would be for the overall settlement and rehabilitation of this country," he said.

"On the other hand, we are prepared to move on a stage-by-stage basis provided that necessary U.N. auspices is provided for the overall transition process in Iraq."

Asked whether that meant Russia could accept the Powell timeline, Fedotov said, "We believe the timeline should be realistic but short."

Germany, another opponent of the war currently on the U.N. Security Council, in recent weeks has moved closer to Washington and did not insist on a timetable.

At Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "We will actively support the sovereignty of the Iraqi people and at the same time avoid new risks," including a "power vacuum" in Iraq.

Nonetheless, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose country recently sent troops to Iraq, said a lot of work remained to get a consensus within the EU and at the United Nations.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We should be ready to go back to other governments within the next few days to talk about the resolution and to give them some idea of modifications to the text."

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday the United States has agreed to give the United Nations a bigger role in the elections and political transformation of Iraq as France and others have demanded.

The unofficial target date for adopting a resolution is Oct. 22 the day before a major donors meeting begins in Madrid, Spain, to try to generate funds for Iraq's reconstruction.

French President Jacques Chirac has ruled out using France's veto on a new resolution, but many council members would like to see all 15 members support the text to show that the Security Council, after the bitter division over the war, is speaking with one voice on the future of Iraq.

Egypt welcomed Powell's timeline, saying the important thing is for the council to agree on one.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, whose country opposed the war, said Monday at the U.N. General Assembly that a new resolution must have the support of Iraq's neighbors. Syria is a non-permanent Security Council member.

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