Annan to mull request for UN advice on possibility of elections for

Video of press conference Mr. Annan told a press conference following talks in New York with members of the Iraqi Governing Council and representatives of the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) the UN was going to be active in recovery, reconstruction, humanitarian and human rights activities in Iraq. But on a possible UN role prior to the return of Iraqi sovereignty at the end of June, “we have agreed that further discussions should take place at the technical level, which would be focused on the most immediate electoral and security issues,” Mr. Annan said after his meeting at UN Headquarters with an Iraqi delegation led by current President Adnan Pachachi, and the CPA, led by the senior US Administrator, L. Paul Bremer. [Speaking at a separate press conference, Governing Council member Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim said Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has called for direct elections, would like a technical committee to examine the holding of elections in Iraq.]“On the basis of those discussions, I will be in a better position to take decisions about what the UN can do to help, particularly regarding the possible dispatch of a mission to Iraq to advise on elections,” he added, referring to a request today by both delegations that the UN quickly send a team to Iraq to make recommendations on the feasibility of elections within the next few months and what alternatives might be possible. “I think we all agree that elections are going to be necessary; indeed, there is provision for two sets of elections in 2005. The issue now is whether the technical, political or security conditions exist for general direct elections to take place as early as May this year,” he said. In his summary as chairman of the talks, Mr. Annan reiterated that the UN’s objective was to help the Iraqi people. “We would like to see as broad a consensus as possible develop among Iraqis on what needs to be done to bring about an Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbours – and on the role that the UN can play in this,” he said. The Secretary-General, who proposed the meeting last month, said the aim of today’s talks was to hear “the assessment of the Governing Council on how the process in Iraq was evolving and what Iraq expects of the UN by way of assistance.” He noted that the discussions covered a wide spectrum of issues, including the transitional political process, humanitarian relief, security and the recovery and reconstruction of Iraq. “For my part, I would want the UN to concentrate on areas where we have a clear comparative advantage, and which all Iraqis consider vital,” he said, pointing out that further discussions were needed to clarify exactly what the UN can best do to help. Other subjects discussed included the process of drafting and finalizing the fundamental law, the future appointment of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, and the question of security agreements to be concluded between the Governing Council and the CPA. “Obviously, the scope for operational UN activities inside Iraq will continue to be constrained by the security situation for some time to come,” added Mr. Annan, who withdrew UN staff in the weeks after the August bombing of its headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. He noted that the CPA and the Governing Council both offered to provide full security for UN international personnel in Iraq. “In my view, this meeting has been an important opportunity for all of us to get a clearer understanding of each other’s positions,” he said. “I believe we did that. We would all agree that it was a very frank and open exchange of views, which we all aim to continue and broaden in the near future.”Responding to reporters’ questions, the Secretary-General said that he had previously indicated that he did not believe there was enough time between now and May to hold elections, “but the team will go down and look into that further and report to me.”Asked about the effect Sunday’s bombing in front of CPA headquarters in Baghdad would have on the UN’s return, Mr. Annan said that event “was not reassuring.” But security was part of this morning’s discussion, he noted, and both the CPA and the Governing Council have some ideas about how they can provide protection for UN staff “and believe they can do it and we are going to study that.”As for a timetable for the UN’s return to Iraq, the Secretary-General said depended “very much” on a security assessment team’s report “and what we agree to do in the immediate phase” before the return of Iraqi sovereignty.“If I were to send in a team following the discussions that we are going to have, depending on the nature of the work or assignments we decide to take on, it may require some UN presence before 30 June,” he said. “And even if we are going to become operationally much more active after the establishment of the provisional government, we need to start planning now…It would be a gradual build-up; I don’t see a massive return of the UN until the security situation improves a bit.”