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Annan: UN expects US support on election plan

WASHINGTON -- A United Nations team heading to Iraq to help break the impasse over creating a transitional government is expecting White House support for its recommendations, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday. Annan said a UN team would go to Iraq soon to seek a consensus on a transitional Iraqi government, which would take power by June 30. "We are going to help them work out this problem and hopefully they will come to some consensus and agreement as to how to move forward," Annan said after meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office.

The Bush administration's election plans were thrown into turmoil when Iraqi Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani demanded direct elections to choose a provisional assembly. The United States wants to stick with a handover plan agreed upon Nov. 15, which calls for caucuses to choose the body.

The White House said that it was open to some changes but that the June 30 deadline was firm. The administration is anxious to settle the problem as Bush heads into a presidential election.

Annan said the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer III, and the Iraqi Governing Council had indicated "they would accept the conclusions of the UN team. So we do have a chance to help break the impasse which exists at the moment and move forward."

He said all parties agree sovereignty should be handed over to Iraq as soon as possible. "The date of 30 June has been suggested, but there is some disagreement as to the mechanism for establishing the provisional government," Annan said.

"And I hope this team I'm sending in will be able to play a role, getting the Iraqis to understand that if they could come to some consensus and some agreement on how to establish that government, they're halfway there," he said.

Annan said the UN group was authorized by the coalition authority and the governing council "to review whether elections are possible or not, help with the design of the caucus system, or propose other options." Bush said he and Annan had discussed ways to ensure that the "Iraqi people can be free and the country stable and prosperous and an example of democracy in the Middle East."

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