Speaking at a news conference in the White House, US President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, signaled support Friday for an interim government to take power in Iraq on June 30 and said the plan under development by a U.N. envoy is "broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people."
The authority of the "coalition" led by the United States will expire on the June 30 deadline previously set, Bush said, adding that American- and British-dominated military forces "will remain in Iraq to help the new government succeed."
"U.N. will have a central role, as now, in developing the program and machinery for political transition to full Iraqi democracy," said Blair, adding that the two leaders would seek a new Security Council resolution to put the weight of the world body behind the shift.
Asked about a claim contained in a new book, Bush did not say whether he secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"I do know that it was Afghanistan that was on my mind and I didn't really start focusing on Iraq 'til later on," the US leader said. The claim is contained in a book by journalist Bob Woodward on Bush's Iraq policy.
"It was never going to be easy and it isn't now" in Iraq, said Blair, who echoed Bush's comments. "We will not waver in the face of fear and intimidation," said the president.
Both Bush and Blair turned aside questions about the motives behind their policies.
Blair grew impassioned when asked whether he and Bush had misled their nations to go to war in Iraq. While the war will be debated for years, he said, "everybody should recognize the common interest today in making sure that Iraq achieves the aim that we sent out and that anybody with any sense in the international community supports."
Bush, asked about critics who say his insistence on sticking to the June 30 deadline is politically motivated, said, "It's a political year, everything I'm going to say is, you know, they're going to say is political."
The president opened by saying the June 30 deadline for a turnover of political power was firm, and expressing support for the work of United Nations diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.
"No citizen of America or Britain would want their government in the hands of others and neither do the Iraqis and this is why the June 30th date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept," he said.
Bush added that the turnover will show Iraqis the United States has "no interest in occupation. On that date the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist. But coalition forces will remain in Iraq to help the new government succeed."
Bush said Brahimi has "identified a way forward to establishing an interim government that is broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people. Our coalition will continue to work with the United Nations to prepare for nationwide elections that will choose a new government in January of 2005."
The president expressed gratitude that Brahimi "will soon return to Iraq and continue his important work." (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)