Powell: U.S. working on Iraq election
The United States is doing everything it can to put in place conditions that will allow Iraqis to conduct elections due by Jan. 30, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview published on Tuesday.
"It's still possible to have the kind of election we want to have by the end of January. The key is security and building up Iraqi forces to make them competent, fully equipped and able to do the job," Powell said in the interview with USA Today.
The newspaper said Powell also dismissed a suggestion by Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry that an international summit would draw more foreign troops to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.
Powell noted that he met last month at the United Nations with counterparts from the European Union and other industrialized countries and plans a meeting next month in Egypt to include Iraq's neighbors.
"I'm not sure how much broader an international conference others may be talking about," Powell said. "The suggestion being that if only there was an international conference, the French and Germans would send troops. Really?"
Powell said he could not predict when U.S. troops in Iraq would be withdrawn but suggested it would be a gradual process.
"I won't speculate as to what the troop levels will be because I don't know and nor does anyone else. It really has to depend on the situation. The troops aren't suddenly going to be pulled out one day," Powell said in the 90-minute interview with USA Today's editorial board.
Powell also said the Bush administration supports efforts by Britain, France and Germany to try to negotiate an end to Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, but doubts they will succeed.
Powell added that the United States was offering no proposals through the European initiative with Iran.
"Our view is, be our guest and we support your efforts as we have for the last year. Call us as soon as you've finished to tell us the results of the conversations to see whether there is any basis for further discussion, dialogue or ideas to be pursued.,"
USA Today said Powell defended the Bush administration's diplomatic record, pointing to improved relations with China, India and Pakistan and increases in U.S. foreign aid.
He was quoted as saying that the "estrangement" with Europeans over Iraq was being resolved. But the newspaper said he acknowledged that the Iraq war and the failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict had caused a troubling rise in anti-Americanism in the Middle East.