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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Rivals edge towards Iraq deal
US troops in Baghdad
The US wants other countries to commit troops and money to Iraq

A compromise appears to be emerging in the diplomatic struggle over Iraq as world leaders gear up for a key United Nations debate on the country's future.

US President George W Bush has said it would be helpful to get UN help in writing a constitution for Iraq or in overseeing an election.

And French President Jacques Chirac has said France will not veto a US-backed Security Council resolution on the future of Iraq.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mr Chirac said France would abstain in a vote on the draft resolution if it failed to include a firm deadline and timetable for a transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis.

France and Germany - the leading opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq - want a rapid transfer of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to Iraqi representatives.

Bomb blast

A car bomb blast near the UN headquarters in Baghdad on Monday highlighted the continuing security crisis, with daily attacks on the US-led occupation forces.

Car bomb blast in Baghdad
The bomb blast followed a weekend of anti-US attacks

The car bomber killed himself and an Iraqi security officer in the blast, which also injured up to 12 other people.

A UN spokeswoman at the scene told the BBC that the UN was likely to consider a further scaling down of its humanitarian and other operations, rather than a full withdrawal.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stressed that "we need a secure environment in which to operate".

The insurgency - blamed on Saddam Hussein loyalists - has raised concern that the US may be getting bogged down in a guerrilla war.

Multinational force

In an interview with the US Fox News television channel, Mr Bush appeared to rule out giving the UN a greater political role in Iraq, saying "I'm not sure we have to, for starters".

Ministers of the five permanent members of the UNSC and Kofi Annan

But he said he wanted UN members to contribute more forces to stabilise Iraq, in the interview to be broadcast later on Monday.

He praised Britain and Poland, which are leading multinational divisions in Iraq.

Mr Bush wants the UN to approve a resolution mandating a US-led multinational force for Iraq, endorsing the US-appointed Iraq Governing Council and calling on the Iraqis to offer a clear timetable for setting up democratic institutions.

The US circulated a draft resolution earlier this month but it has not yet been put to a vote.

Bush defends war

Mr Bush said he would tell the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that he had made "the right decision" to invade Iraq.

Jacques Chirac
There will be no concrete solution unless sovereignty is transferred to Iraq as quickly as possible
Jacques Chirac

The US insists that a hasty move to Iraqi sovereignty could be counterproductive.

Mr Bush said he would welcome the UN helping to draft a constitution for Iraq. "I mean, they're good at that," he said.

"Or, perhaps when an election starts, they'll oversee the election. That would be deemed a larger role," he added.

The five permanent members of the Security Council have failed to agree on the timetable and manner of a transfer of power in Iraq, with France and the US differing most sharply.

Mr Chirac plans to meet the German and Russian leaders in New York, who were united in their opposition to the US-led invasion.

But German government officials insisted that the meeting would not signify a "counter-axis" in opposition to Mr Bush.

Chirac plan

Mr Chirac struck a conciliatory note in the New York Times interview published on Monday.

"I have no intention of opposing the resolution," he said.

He set out a two-stage plan for Iraqi self-rule, involving first a symbolic transfer of sovereignty to the existing Iraqi Governing Council.

A gradual ceding of real power would follow over the next six to nine months, Mr Chirac said.

However, he reaffirmed France's position that sovereignty should be "transferred to Iraq as quickly as possible".

The French president ruled out for the moment sending French combat troops to Iraq, but made clear this position could be revised in the future.

Many other UN members have been pushing for a greater role in post-war Iraq, and have criticised the US rationale for war as exaggerated and unfounded.

The BBC's Stephen Civiic
"President Chirac says he wants an immediate symbolic transfer of sovereignty"

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