RAY SUAREZ: John Burns, welcome. In the cities that have been the centers of fighting between insurgents and American forces, the situation seems to lurch back and forth between conflict and conciliation talks. Which was it today?
JOHN BURNS: Well, there was definitely an encouraging breakthrough in the announcement by the occupation authority -- of the American occupation authority that they have an outline agreement with the city fathers of Fallujah for a stand-down in that confrontation. The problem is that the agreement is with the notables of the town ... that is to say some clerics, some professional people, but not just the people with the guns.
It's very clear that the people on the American side who negotiated this remain highly skeptical that the people with the guns will observe it indeed, the agreement ends by saying progress must be clearly demonstrated and the return to law and order observed; time to settle this crisis remains extremely limited. So it may be, it may be that the, that the hard judgment of the American military this year is that this will not be observed, the stand down by the people who are confronting the marines in Fallujah will not be observed, and that that will in effect prepare the ground for the marines to resume the offensive.
RAY SUAREZ: In the ongoing fighting has there been any indication that these civil and religious authorities you mentioned have had any control over the people who are doing the shooting?
JOHN BURNS: Not much, none that we know of. Indeed, our correspondent, the New York Times correspondent who was outside Fallujah where the associations were continuing in recent days reported that the bus that carried these leaders out of Fallujah to the Marine base for a distance of a few miles had blankets on the windows in order to shield the identity of those on the bus from the fighters of Fallujah.
This does not suggest that they're likely to have much influence. And that documents that the American negotiators could use today -- the capitulation by the parties in Fallujah talks about the handover of all weapons, it talks about foreign fighters leaving the city. It would be a complete surrender, and it's very hard to understand why that would be the case. If these people will stand down and hand over their borders, RPGs, machine guns -- I'm reading now from the documents -- bomb-making materials, grenades, surface to air missiles, and all associated ammunition, if they were prepared to do that, my guess is they would have done that months ago.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the U.S. forces for their part have kept in place their threat of decisive action, both in Fallujah and Najaf. Are there any time definitions, any break pounds in these agreements where if these handovers don't occur, if the surrenders don't occur by a certain time, military action will commence?
JOHN BURNS: Well, I think the pressure is on Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation authority here, and on General Sanchez, the American field commander, are pretty intense for a number of reasons. First of all, the political timetable, it's now ten weeks or less until the United States will do the handover -- that is to say the progress towards a transitional government -- that momentous transfer of power -- has been absolutely stalled by this -- the hand-picked Iraqi leaders who imposed the Iraqi Governing Council, the advisory party, was to have been the nucleus of transitional government.
They're really not thinking about that at all, they're thinking about trying to head off the conflagration that would occur if the Marines did in fact have to drive all the way into Fallujah to overrun the city. There is of course a companion threat, probably more serious, more threatening, in terms of sparking a major conflagration here of the situation in Najaf.
It seems pretty clear that the American forces do not intend to go into Najaf after al-Sadr. It's not so clear that they would not go into Kut, the adjacent town, which guards the entrance to Najaf. In the mosque where Muqtada al-Sadr has taken residence -- that mosque is also of course taken to Shiite -- there have been attacks on American convoys including one today, two miles up the road from that mosque. There were American casualties -- called in to disable American military vehicles.
These are acts which the American military command would consider to be provocative just as they consider the deaths of Marines who continue to be killed in the breaches of the cease-fire at Fallujah provocative ... you have the two pressures on the American leaders here, one is the political timetable, the sand is running out if through towards June 30 when they hand over sovereignty. And on the other hand you have the fact that American troops are dying, as long as these confrontations remain unresolved.
RAY SUAREZ: The Spanish prime minister has sped up the timetable for the removal of Spanish troops. Around they near Najaf and if they are, does that change the military situation in that part of the country?
JOHN BURNS: They are. In fact, there was an attack on Spanish troops at Najaf which launched the confrontation there. There was a critical day two weeks ago, when the Spanish garrison along with other South American troops, Salvadorans, I believe, came under attack and narrowly averted being overrun ... American commanders have great admiration for the way the Spanish conducted themselves that day with great courage. And they will be very, very unhappy to lose those troops.
They have said -- General Kimmitt -- that the numbers are not a problem. What they're mostly concerned about is that the prime minister not so hastily exit the troops. That would be highly disruptive to American military operations around Najaf. It would be difficult in any case but they say they have the troops, American troops that can be placed.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Paul Bremer has publicly announced that in his view Iraqi security forces will not be ready to take over security duties in that country once political sovereignty is handed over. Has an announcement like this ever come from this high up in the American authority?
JOHN BURNS: They've said that in effect for a very long time. I think what Ambassador Bremer was saying yesterday was let's be realistic about this. There's absolutely no way that any Iraqi leaders or any conceivable transitional government will be able to defend yourself or the country with the existing Iraqi security force, you have to continue to rely on American forces to do that so, so let's not be too adventurous about this. He didn't need to spell it out. Let's accept that the American military are going to remain in command of this and they are not going to be subject to the party of an Iraqi transitional government. That's the way I read it.
RAY SUAREZ: John Burns joining us from Baghdad, thanks a lot, John.
JOHN BURNS: It's a pleasure.