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Annan says time not yet ripe for UN return to Iraq

Annan welcomes latest US plan but says time not yet ripe for UN return to Iraq

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  • Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he was encouraged by the latest United States proposal to accelerate the transfer of power in Iraq to Iraqis, but added the time was not yet right for the United Nations to return its international staff to the country given the security situation.

    Mr. Annan also said that after a conversation with US Secretary of State Colin Powell over the weekend he believed that Mr. Powell foresees an important role for the United Nations in the transfer process.

    "I'm encouraged by the development. Obviously, we are going to study the plan very, very carefully," he told reporters on arrival at UN Headquarters in New York.

    The Secretary-General said he was looking at candidates to head the UN mission in Iraq and hoped to name a candidate in the not too distant future to replace Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the 19 August terrorist attack in Baghdad. UN international staff in the Iraqi capital have been temporarily withdrawn.

    Meanwhile, the UN will explore what kind of operations it can do from outside Iraq, and, when circumstances permit, how it will operate in Iraq, Mr. Annan added.

    Asked whether it was now the appropriate time that he had previously mentioned for a UN return, he replied: "No, first of all, let me say that we are not entirely out of Iraq. We do have personnel in Iraq. But to build up and do the kind of things that we need to do, I think we need to assess the security situation."

    If the situation improves, he added, "we will be ready to go back."

    Mr. Annan said he received briefings over the weekend from Mr. Powell, current Iraqi Governing Council President Jalal Talabani, and the British envoy to Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock.

    Asked if Mr. Powell indicated that he would support the UN claim for a more political role in putting a transitional government in place, he replied: "Yes, I think he also foresees an important role for the UN and I'm sure he will support it. But as I said, it depends on the circumstances."

    Referring to his discussions with Mr. Talabani, Mr. Annan added: "He indicated that they would need UN assistance and advice in implementing the new decisions which have been taken. But we are going to study the decision and the plans very carefully and decide what advice we can offer and what role we can play, how and where."

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