Afghan talks support U.N. taking power

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany -- Talks on Afghan-istan's political future moved into a decisive phase Saturday after the northern alliance said it was prepared to transfer power to a U.N.-backed interim council and allow an international security force, clearing the way for an agreement.

The announcement followed a night of intense diplomacy. The U.N. envoy to the conference among four Afghan delegations outside Bonn called the Afghan capital, Kabul, to press for a breakthrough after northern alliance leaders there said they could not accept a council named in Germany.

"There's no guarantee of success but the will is there," U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said from the hilltop Petersberg hotel where the talks were in their fifth day.

Diplomats and participants at the talks said the emerging deal includes only the creation of a small interim council with executive powers, leaving aside for now an envisioned larger interim council with quasi-legislative functions.

"That's the way things are going right now," a senior U.S. official at the talks said. "There's a lot of discussion about a possible deal."

Under an agreement among the four factions, the interim authority would govern Afghanistan until March, when a national council, or loya jirga, would convene. At that time, a transitional authority would be chosen to govern for up to two years, paving the way for a democratic constitution and possibly elections.

The conference between the northern alliance, exiles loyal to Afghanistan's former king and two smaller exile groups had reached an impasse Friday, when Burhanuddin Rabbani -- the alliance leader and former Afghan president -- took a hard line on two key issues.

Rabbani insisted the interim councils be chosen in Afghanistan, not by the Germany conference, and he said an Afghan force should keep security under the interim government, with at most 200 foreign troops. The United Nations wants an international security force.

But Saturday, after U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi spoke with Rabbani overnight, Rabbani's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah, announced the alliance was "ready to transfer power to a transitional authority."