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US gives itself 2 weeks to win UN accord

Little room seen for a compromise

WASHINGTON -- Frustrated by the reluctance of other nations to support its postwar plans in Iraq, the Bush administration has given itself a two-week window to win approval for a new United Nations resolution authorizing more international assistance there.

President Bush has insisted on a UN Security Council resolution that calls for a transfer of authority to Iraqis only after a new constitution has been written and elections have been held. US officials also want the American-led coalition to remain in control of the country until that time. Other nations, most notably council members, such as France and Russia, want a faster transfer of power to Iraqis.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indicated there is little wiggle room to work out a compromise.

"We've made clear what our bottom line is -- that our resolution incorporates how we believe the political process needs to unfold to ensure Iraq's stability and democratic future," Boucher said. "We continue to believe our resolution is a good one."

Getting a new resolution approved is of particular importance to the United States because its military and financial resources are stretched painfully thin and other nations have said they don't feel comfortable sending money or troops to Iraq without a vote of support from the United Nations.

Still, the Bush administration seems willing to forgo more support if it can't be obtained on its terms. Boucher said the administration would like to have a solution to the question "one way or the other" before countries meet in Madrid for a donors conference Oct. 23 and 24 to discuss what they will provide in Iraq.

"We could proceed or not proceed with the resolution," Boucher said. "That's definitely one of our options."

Washington's tough stand on the proposed resolution comes as the administration steps up its push to detail the progress it says it is making in Iraq.

"The people of Iraq are free and working toward a self-government," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations yesterday. "Step by step, normal life in Iraq is being reborn, as basic services are restored -- in some cases, for the first time in decades. Throughout the country, schools and hospitals are being rebuilt. Banks are opening and a new currency -- without Saddam Hussein's picture -- is being prepared."

Rice's remarks included a defense of the administration's decision to topple Hussein without UN backing.

"Right up until the end, Saddam Hussein continued to torture and oppress the Iraqi people," Rice said. "Right up until the end, Saddam Hussein lied to the Security Council. And let there be no mistake, right up until the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons programs."

Rice cited last week's progress report by American weapons inspector David Kay that the Hussein government had "dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."

But even with 140,000 troops on the ground and teams of experts scouring the country, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. That fact, coupled with the almost daily killing of US troops in Iraq, has contributed to the perception among key members of Congress that the administration's plans were badly flawed.

Congress is debating Bush's request for $87 billion to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, and many in Washington have pressed the administration to get more international support so US soldiers and taxpayers don't shoulder so much of the load in Iraq.

Bush tried to answer that call last month when he spoke before the UN's General Assembly. But, as Rice did yesterday, Bush strongly defended his prewar decisions, and his appeal for aid drew a decidedly cool reception.

Not much has changed since then.

Germany is part of a bloc with France and Russia that is demanding significant changes to the US draft resolution. US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte indicated Tuesday such changes would not be coming.

"The ball is in the US field," said a German official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are expecting for the US to come back with a third version of the text, but we wouldn't know when or how far the changes would go."

Administration officials say the US-led coalition must remain in control of Iraq until after a new constitution is written and adopted and a general election held, something specialists say could take as long as two years. As the unruly situation in Iraq may evolve into a growing political liability for the White House in next year's presidential campaign, there were signs the administration wants to pick up the pace of the process.

Last month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a UN news conference that the constitution should be written in six months, with elections six months after that, but that language does not appear in the US draft.

The Germans, French and Russians support assertions last week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the US draft does not go far enough in detailing how to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi governing body. France is sticking to its position that at least a symbolic transition should take place within three to six months. Annan wants an explicit timetable for a transfer of power in the wake of the Aug. 19 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 23 UN officials, including the head of the mission.Globe correspondent Joe Lauria contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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