WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is preparing to ask the United Nations to transform the U.S.-led force in Iraq to a multinational force and to play a leading role in forming an Iraqi government.
President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell met on the issue Tuesday and agreed to move forward with a new U.N. resolution, three administration officials said on condition of anonymity.
Powell and his aides will begin talking about the new resolution in coming days with key members of the Security Council whose support is critical -- close ally Britain, as well as France and Russia, two countries that opposed the U.S.-led war.
The United States hopes that expanding the U.N. role in postwar Iraq will attract badly needed troop contributions from additional countries to help stabilize Iraq and more money to help rebuild the country.
Last week, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage said Washington was considering creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership -- but with an American commander -- in an attempt to persuade reluctant nations to send troops to boost security in Iraq.
But one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said then the administration would not consider putting the operation under U.N. control. It was unclear Tuesday night how much authority the Pentagon would be willing to hand over to the United Nations.
Five months after the United States was forced to drop a U.N. resolution seeking authority to attack Iraq, administration officials say they do not want a repeat of that brawl. They say they expect the United States to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations on the text of the resolution, to ensure it would be agreeable to the veto-wielding permanent members and the rest of the Security Council, and to project a unanimous, internationally backed stand on what happens next on Iraq.
According to the senior official, the Bush administration plans to begin talking to other nations within days about the new Security Council resolution.
Diplomats say placing reconstruction under U.N. auspices will make it easier to garner contributions from nations that opposed the war, notably France and Germany. Belgium, too, said last week that it may be willing to donate money -- if the United Nations was "playing a central role" in reconstruction.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, whose country wields a Security Council veto and which led the opposition to the war against Iraq, said the international community needs to move quickly to establish an internationally recognized Iraqi government. France and Russia have called for a timetable for a constitution, elections and the restoration of Iraq's sovereignty.
"We think now it's a matter of urgency, and the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis is something now which is a priority," de La Sabliere said Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York. "On the whole subject, we have to move fast because the situation is deteriorating."
Bush and Powell made their decision two weeks after U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, killing top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others, and injuring 164 people. On Friday, the United Nations ordered a drastic reduction of its remaining 400 international staff to a ceiling of 50 because of continuing security concerns.
Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a Security Council member, said Tuesday the withdrawal has to be a temporary measure to reassess security conditions.
"The commitment of the United Nations has to be reinforced and reconceived," he said. "The authority in Iraq should be the U.N. as opposed to the occupying powers."
Bulgaria's U.N. Ambassador Stefan Tafrov, another council member whose country has already provided troops to the U.S.-led force, said a new resolution should provide "as central as possible" a role for the United Nations.
"What is clear is that all members of the Security Council and the international community at large need a stabilized Iraq. It's in the interest of everybody, the Iraqi people to begin with," he said.
The administration is optimistic it can attract peacekeeping troops for Iraq from at least India, Pakistan and Turkey by placing the operation under the U.N. flag.
Tentative drafts of a U.N. Security Council resolution circulated Friday among administration officials, but the State Department had yet to attract a consensus among them for expanding the U.N. role in Iraq.
Associated Press reporters George Gedda in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.