'Real date for Iraq handover is January now'

Wext: Saturday, 08.May. @ 00:00:00 CEST


8. 05. 2004 - European foreign ministers meeting in Dublin this week said they were now resigned to a largely "symbolic" transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of June, and would be reluctant to block a United Nations resolution over the issue.

Several European Union governments now say the most important handover date in Iraq will be January 2005, the timetable set for elections which diplomats believe will be much more significant than June in terms of passing genuine legitimacy to an Iraqi government.

Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's envoy to Baghdad who has just finished his six-month stint, recently told Nato ambassadors during a visit to Brussels they should now regard next January, not June 30 as the more important date.

He expressed the same view on Friday in The Economist. "The transfer of executive authority to an Iraqi government by June 30 2004 is less important than the end-year elections in the building of the new state," he wrote.

The shift from the significance of June 30 to next January stems from a growing consensus among EU governments that the US is not prepared to give the transitional Iraqi government sufficient powers to bestow legitimacy and sovereignty.

Michel Barnier, French foreign minister, told other EU foreign ministers this week "we must all look to the future, not to the past". He did not suggest that Paris would block a UN resolution, despite reservations over limited authority for the transitional government.

He was speaking after a "Euro-Mediterranean" meeting in Dublin of EU foreign ministers and their counterparts from North Africa and the Middle East.

Diplomats said European officials were unwilling to say publicly that the transitional government would not end the occupation since they did not want to fuel another transatlantic row. But statements by some foreign ministers about the powers invested in the transitional government made their criticisms clear.

Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister, openly questioned what kind of legitimacy the transitional government would have "if it did not have control over the budget and over security. There must be a transfer of visible sovereignty," he said.

It was unclear what stance Russia would take on Friday, as Sergei Lavrov, the new foreign minister, called for an international conference to determine the nature of a new Iraq administration before the handover.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, expressed doubts that there would be any significant political shift in Iraq after June 30. "The situation will not change, just the decorations. If there is a resolution, it will be symbolic," he said.

Mr Kosachev stressed that Russia was not interested in the failure of the US and British operation, and would not in any way try to harm it, but that his country was "not ashamed of its position of opposition to the war".

The Pentagon this week said it would retain control over security, particularly the prisons where 8,000 Iraqis are held.

Source: FT

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