SPENCER MICHELS: At the United Nations today, there were more negotiations. At issue was language in a draft resolution that would determine how soon power is transferred from U.S. occupation forces to the Iraqi people. But so far, there is no agreement.
COUNCIL MEMBER: The provisional agenda for this meeting is before the Council.
SPENCER MICHELS: The U.S., Britain, and Spain are pushing the third version of a resolution in the Security Council. It sets a December 15 deadline for Iraq's governing council to come up with a timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections. The draft also says the council would "embody the sovereignty of Iraq."
But the latest draft doesn't offer a specific timetable for the U.S. to relinquish sovereignty, and that's what Secretary-General Kofi Annan and countries like France, Germany, and Russia had been calling for. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said the latest proposal comes up short.
SERGEI LAVROV: We appreciate the improvements introduced in the resolution structurally and substance-wise, and we think that it is moving in the right direction. Some of the elements which are crucial to the success of the Security Council discussions are not very clear, though, and some of them are slightly ambiguous, so we worked out amendments which are designed to clarify those parts of the resolution. They are not numerous at all, and they basically relate to the notions already contained in the resolution, and we attempt to make them clearer.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Bush administration has been pushing a new U.N. resolution in hopes of getting other countries to provide financial aid and troops for the Iraqi reconstruction. At the White House this afternoon, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice defended the latest proposal.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We are looking at what the Russians and others have proposed. We think that the resolution that we put forward is a very good resolution, that it is first and foremost a good resolution for the Iraqi people in that it both paints a horizon for the return -- I shouldn't say the return -- under Saddam Hussein, it's not as if the Iraqi people were really sovereign. So let me say for the establishment of a freely elected and sovereign government in Iraq.
SPENCER MICHELS: But after the August bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed up to 20 people, Annan drastically reduced the U.N. staff there. Two weeks ago, he said the U.N. would not return in a major way unless it was granted a central role in postwar Iraq, not just what the U.S. and its allies have called a vital role in their previous offers. The Security Council is expected to take decisive action on the new Iraq resolution with a vote as early as tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: For more on this, we go to New York Times U.N. Correspondent Felicity Barringer. Felicity, good evening, how are you?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Good evening, Jim. Well, thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, your reporting confirm that there probably will be a vote on this tomorrow?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Yes, I think it's highly likely there will be a vote if not tomorrow then early Thursday. You can never be certain. These things have looked like they're coming close to a vote before, only to have it pulled. But I think this time we can be reasonably sure we'll see a vote on this within the next twenty-four or forty-eight hours.
JIM LEHRER: The conventional wisdom is that the U.S. has nine votes for this, is that right?
FELICITY BARRINGER: I think we're at the nine or ten range. I'm a little leery of getting too specific with vote counting. But I think it's safe to say that the U.S. at this point is within striking distance of passing this resolution. The real question is, are they going to pass it with a series of abstentions from important countries, thereby having the Security Council send a mixed message, or are they going to pass it with fourteen or fifteen votes?
JIM LEHRER: Now, the countries that are at issue here of course are France, Germany and Russia, right? And are they the likely abstentions at this point?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Well I think Syria would be the first of the likely abstentions, then very definitely the three you named, and China, which has essentially allied themselves with the proposed amendments put forward by the European countries today.
JIM LEHRER: So it's a little confusing, it takes nine votes for the resolution to officially pass, correct?
FELICITY BARRINGER: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: But for it to have power, in addition to being passed, it even, Annan said today it needed more votes, right? And that's what you're talking about, 14, 15 votes of course would be the most desirable, correct?
FELICITY BARRINGER: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: From the U.S. point of view?
FELICITY BARRINGER: That's absolutely right, from the U.S. point of view. And actually from Secretary-General Annan's point of view and even from the European council members' points of view, I think everybody wants to see a Council as close to unanimous as it can be on this issue to send a message that the world really does care about the future of Iraq and wants to see it move forward to Iraqi sovereignty as quickly and cleanly as possible.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Mr. Annan said in his statement today that if it passes, no matter what the vote is, he will do his best to implement it. But he said that with, it seemed with a tone that was less than enthusiastic. What is his message here about implementing a resolution that doesn't have the kind of powerful vote that you just talked about?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Well, I think he's torn between two very different forces here. He is at some level the servant of the Council, he must do what they require. But he's lost people, including some of his closest friends, in a bombing that took place less than two months ago, and he's got a staff that's very concerned about their own security.
So if he goes in, he wants to go in under circumstances that are essentially worth his while, and that also give a sense of greater security for staff. I think in his calculation, the closer you are to an Iraq that governs itself, the more secure you are to send in people to help it realize that goal.
JIM LEHRER: Why, why does he believe that to be the case?
FELICITY BARRINGER: I think that he feels, and again I hesitate to put myself, --
JIM LEHRER: Sure, absolutely.
FELICITY BARRINGER: -- to speak for the secretary general here, but what he's indicated is that if you have an occupying force there, he used the words today, the resistance will continue. In other words, if it is seen as a foreign controlled country, then it is a breeding ground for acts of violence and terrorism. If it is seen as a country in control of its own destiny, I believe these are his, the things he has expressed, then it is a country where it is safer to work.
JIM LEHRER: It's been suggested that what he wants to be perceived as, it's the people of Iraq who are inviting the U.N. in, rather than the United States government, is that a fair statement?
FELICITY BARRINGER: That's a fair statement, Jim, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what is the nut of the issue here on sovereignty? Is there a simple way to explain the differences between the United States and Annan and these other countries?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Right. At this point, it's important to note that the other countries have largely conceded the basic issue. The issue is essentially who controls the military and political future of Iraq, and for how long. The United States has made it clear that the coalition would like to turn over that control to Iraqis as soon as practicable. But it's also made clear that that may take a while to do it's cleanly and to do it in a way that will last. It would like to see a constitution developed in the near future, it would like to see elections follow that constitution. But it would not -- it's very clear that the U.S. does not want to set down a clear timetable that will force it to get out before it feels the country is ready to govern itself.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, go ahead.
FELICITY BARRINGER: On the other hand, you have European countries, France in particular but also Russia and Germany, and the secretary general, wanting very much that some sort of interim Iraqi authority could be formed as soon as possible to take as much control as possible so that it will be seen as an Iraq in control of its own destiny, and as I said earlier not controlled by foreigners.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the importance of this resolution, some people have suggested that this resolution is crucial, for instance, if you want, if other countries are to come in. In other words they need the cover of the U.N. resolution, particularly Muslim countries and Asia and elsewhere, maybe even Japan and whatever -- is that really -- is that underline all of this as well? If somebody is going to come in and help the United States on the ground, both with troops and with financial aid, they have to have this U. N. resolution?
FELICITY BARRINGER: I think, Jim, that was the original thought back in August and September when this was first conceived and put forward. I wonder now how much difference this makes beyond the symbolic.
You already have Turkey saying it will contribute troops, Pakistan has set a number of hurdles beyond the existence of the U. N. resolution before it will send troops. The donor countries, there was a conference today that revealed that about 45 countries are willing to give, I think, roughly $2 billion. That's before this resolution is passed. How much more will be coming in once this resolution is passed? I don't know, and I don't know if it will be a lot.
But it's very important to the U.S. to get this done, to show essentially there is a common interest, and the Security Council recognizes that common interest around the world, in securing Iraq's future.
JIM LEHRER: So from the U.S.'s point of view now, it's less important than it was, whether it's nine votes or fifteen votes, just get it out of there and move on, is that what you're saying?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Not exactly. I think anybody would rather win with a resounding majority than winning with this kind of tattered, ugly abstention-heavy vote. But winning is of course the bottom line.
JIM LEHRER: ...At this time last week there was talk that the U.S. might even withdraw the resolution, they might not even go for the resolution. So they've decided that some kind of resolution is necessary, right?
FELICITY BARRINGER: Yeah, that's been the most interesting process that has telescoped throughout the last week. It looked, after Secretary Annan expressed his concern about the earlier draft, it looked as if the U.S. might not even get the nine votes that are the minimum for passage. At that moment, Washington seriously considered pulling back the resolution altogether. But then the British said no, we need this, we need this really badly. And over the weekend, a heavy push was put onto try and get language that everybody could live with.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Felicity, thank you very much.
FELICITY BARRINGER: Thank you, Jim.