By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor in Italy
Italy, Rome -- Helen Clark and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi discussed in Rome yesterday a planned United Nations resolution , if adopted, would see a multinational UN-led force in Iraq.
The meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister followed talks this week between Berlusconi, United States president George Bush, and United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.
Berlusconi and Bush discussed “a full transfer of sovereignty” to an interim Iraqi government on June 30 and the role of the United Nations in Iraq.
Berlusconi told a gathering of press in Rome a new UN resolution is being worked on that would likely see “blue helmets” in Iraq assisting a transition from one of the most dangerous places on earth toward democracy.
Moves are also afoot to have Bush meet UN Security Council members and leaders of ‘coalition countries’ in New York to discuss "international legitimization" on an interim government in Iraq. Berlusconi said this would be useful for both the international community and for Iraqi domestic purposes.
The previous day in New York, Berlusconi said: “Since I have the possibility and chance of talking to the President of the Russian Federation, Putin, and to Tony Blair and other leaders, I also submitted to President Bush the possibility of organising an international conference on Iraq, which could be held before the elections in Iraq in January.”
The UN is expected to name members of the interim Iraqi government by the end of May and, by the end of July, establish a UN-sponsored electoral commission to assist preparations for elections in January 2005.
The interim government would have very limited powers and prevented from establishing legislation except moves to reduce the country’s debt.
Recent United Nations debate has centred on whether member states will be asked to approve the Iraq occupation under a different name. Britain and the United States gave no commitment to pulling out or reducing the number of troops.
France, Germany and Pakistan are attempting to strike a "sunset" clause to end the US-led multinational force in Iraq. Britain and the U.S. however wish for the US-led force to remain until a review be undertaken in one year unless an elected government (post January 2005) requests it. Helen Clark said New Zealand has always been prepared to talk to the UN about what its requirements are.
“Today, we do not have anything specific to say. Like all countries we are waiting to see what shape the resolution will take after the 30th of June.
“We have never ruled out being helpful, but the caveat we (New Zealand) have is that we have quite a big commitment in Afghanistan at the moment, we are still involved in the Solomon (Islands) and have other things on the go, and new equipment for the Army that personnel have to be trained for.
“So we are not looking for major work, but if there is some small role that New Zealand could play then yes,” Helen Clark said.
She said plans remain to withdraw New Zealand Defence engineers from Iraq in September: “We are looking at how we may assist the electoral process in Iraq… looking at what assistance we can give to UN agencies that have acted in there. That is all that is on or plate right now.”
She added: “I think Iraq is going to be a dangerous place for quite some time. Whether or not there will be an Iraqi government there or American troops, I think it is going to take a long time to settle,” Helen Clark said.
She said “by nature” a UN force would not be a combat force: “It remains to be seen whether the UN will (commit a blue helmet force or provide some sort of mandate to forces that are there at the present time.”
She said the UN resolution that is being worked on is expected to be a “consensus resolution on how Iraq ought to be supported in this transition”.
“We have been looking at what development assistance we could offer, whether we could be helpful in the run-up to elections with election administration and providing assistance. We are considering a range of things. We are just waiting to see what the lie of the land is after 30 June,” Helen Clark said.
New Zealand PM Helen Clark leaving after a meeting with Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi in Rome.
In Italy, Berlusconi is under increasing pressure to pull troops out of Iraq after another Italian soldier was killed this week. Italy has lost 19 others in Iraq in non-combat fatalities. He acknowledged that improving security leading up to elections will be “tough work” after sovereignty is transferred on June 30 “because there will still be people there trying to derail the election process."
Berlusconi warned that should coalition forces leave Iraq before democracy is established then chaos would take hold and risk many years of civil war. He said this would create an authoritarian country, a fundamentalist country, and certainly a likely exporter of terror.