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UN team will consult election options with Iraqis

UN team will consult with cross-section of Iraqis, explore election options - Annan

The United Nations team that will leave shortly for Iraq to determine whether elections are possible between now and the end of May will explore what options the Iraqis can agree on, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

While the task facing the team is described as technical it is also highly political, and as such leaders must be consulted "to see what it is that can be agreed to," Mr. Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York a day after meeting with United States President George W. Bush and other senior US officials in Washington.

"We will be open and talk to as many Iraqis as possible, to try and get to understand what it is that they are worried about, and perhaps try and work with them to get a consensus amongst themselves as to what mechanism would be best for the establishment of a provisional government," he said. "I think that if we can get them to agree on that it will be easier to move to the next phase, because if you don't agree on the process, the divisions and discussions will continue."

Asked when the UN team will leave for Iraq, the Secretary-General said it would go as soon as practical once security arrangements are assured. "I can't say more than that, nor can I tell you who's on the team and who's going to lead the team. What I can tell you is that we're going to send a team that is experienced, that is solid and that will be able to carry out the tasks I've assigned it," he said.

The United Nations, Mr. Annan added, was not going to go back permanently just yet, but it has always assumed it would have a role in working with a provisional Iraqi government on a constitution and on national elections, perhaps later next year.

"That's why I have an acting [Special Representative] in the region working with us, and of course the team that is going in will do what it is there to do specifically to help break this impasse, but of course it will also keep its eye out to see what the situation is on the ground for eventual return of the UN," he said, adding, "We're going to do a mission and then come out, but we'll keep an eye out."

He also noted that in his meeting last month with officials from the Iraqi Governing Council and Coalition Provisional Authority, both had indicated that they would accept his recommendations regarding elections or other possible options.

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