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Foreign Minsters Fail to Reach Agreement on Iraq's Future

Divided foreign ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries ended a crucial meeting in Geneva Saturday with no major breakthrough on talks for international support for the U.S. in Iraq.

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Vain search for consensus -- U.N. Secretary-General Anan, center, with Big Five foreign ministers.

Called by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan, the meeting of foreign ministers from France, Britain, America, China and Russia was meant to reach common ground over the Bush administration’s draft resolution on Iraq calling for more international support and avoid a repeat of acrimonious Security Council talks earlier this year.

Despite low expectations ahead of the meeting amid sharp differences between the veto-wielding countries, Kofi Anan said on Saturday that consensus between the Big Five powers on the future of Iraq was "essential and acheivable."

"Discussions today were not intended... to devise specific solutions. They will contribute to building consensus towards the future of Iraq, including the definition of the
U.N. role," Annan told a news conference after the talks.

Colin Powell

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (photo) said the discussions had laid the groundwork for further talks in New York next week. He said he was encouraged by the talks that had shown "many points of convergence", but admitted difficulties still remained. "Of course, there are differences of opinion on certain aspects of our draft resolution," Powell told reporters.

Sharp differences particularly between France and the U.S. emerged ahead of the talks with France insisting on setting out a concrete timetable for the handing over of power to the Iraqis and saying sovereignty of the Iraqis was top priority. The U.S. for its part is keen to rope in more countries to share the burden of peacekeeping in Iraq with the help of the new U.N. draft resolution, but is wary of rushing the pace of change in Iraq.

"The important thing... is we spent our time today looking for points of convergence, and there are many," Powell said. "And we have gotten a better understanding of our views which we can communicate to our permanent representatives back in New York for them to pursue the work next week."

France urges quicker transfer of power in Iraq

On Friday, France laid out its terms for supporting the new U.S. draft resolution aimed to draw in more international support in Iraq.

Dominique de Villepin in Brüssel

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (photo) said France wanted a new resolution that handed over power to Iraqi politicians in a month, drew up a draft constitution by the end of the year and provided for general elections by next spring. In an editorial in the French daily Le Monde on Friday, Villepin wrote "Today, it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves to permit them to fully assume their responsibilities."

France together with Germany, both staunch opponents of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, has already drawn up an alternate plan for Iraq, which foresees a multinational peacekeeping troop under a U.S. commander, but wants the U.S. to give up control over all civil areas, including oil sources, to the Iraqi Governing Council. Berlin and Paris also want the 25-member U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to be assisted by the U.N. and not controlled by U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, as is the case currently.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said recently, "we're of the opinion that the U.N. should steer this transitional phase centrally, so that Islamic and Arabic nations can contribute significantly to support the process."

Russia, another veto-wielding member, also wants the draft resolution to outline a specific timeframe for the arrival of international peacekeepers and the restoring of sovereignty, Russian news agency ITAR-Tass reported.

Powell: French proposal "unrealistic"

The U.S. however shot down the latest French proposal. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called it "totally unrealistic" in the face of growing guerrilla attacks.

"It would be delightful if one could do that but one can't do that. I cannot anticipate us agreeing to any language that would buy into what Minster de Villepin has been saying," Powell told reporters on his way to Geneva late on Friday. Powell added U.S. forces would have to stay in charge until a new Iraqi army and police force took shape. "We are not going to second that (U.S.) force to anyone else," he said.

In a separate interview with Arab Al-Jazeera television Powell said the United States wants to restore Iraqi sovereignty "as fast as we can" and is starting by giving responsibility to the Cabinet ministers.

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