U.S.-led coalition forces would leave Iraq if a new interim government should ask them to, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday, but such a request is unlikely.
Powell said the United States believes that a U.N. resolution passed last year and Iraqi administrative law provide necessary authority for coalition forces to remain even beyond the scheduled June 30 handover of government to Iraqis.
"We're there to support the Iraqi people and protect them and the new government," Powell said at a news conference with his counterparts from other Group of Eight nations preparing for an economic summit next month. "I have no doubt the new government will welcome our presence and am losing no sleep over whether they will ask us to stay."
But were the new government to say it could handle security, "then we would leave," Powell said.
L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, told a delegation from Iraq's Diyala province Friday that American forces would not stay where they were unwelcome.
"If the provisional government asks us to leave, we will leave," Bremer said, referring to an interim Iraqi administration due to take power June 30. "I don't think that will happen, but obviously we don't stay in countries where we're not welcome."
Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman had told the House International Relations Committee on Thursday that although it was unlikely, the Iraqi interim government could tell U.S. troops to leave. But Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who was also at the hearing, contradicted his statement, telling the panel that only an elected government could order a U.S. withdrawal.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Friday that the Iraqi people still want help from the United States and coalition forces to provide security.
"Iraqi security forces are not fully equipped and trained to provide for their own security and defend their country against terrorists," McClellan said. "And so, after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, we expect to continue to partner with the Iraqi forces to improve the security situation."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at the news conference with Powell that stability in Iraq would not be served by an abrupt withdrawal.
"But were the government that takes over to ask us to leave, we would leave," Straw said. Britain is the main force other than the United States in the U.S.-led military coalition that brought down Iraq's authoritarian government last year and is trying to restore calm in the aftermath.
Powell said he expected the commander of coalition forces in Iraq to remain an American and report up his chain of command to maintain military effectiveness. Also, a consultative process can be established so the U.S. commander and the American ambassador kept the Iraqi government informed of their activities, he said.
French officials are urging that the new Iraqi government be given the power to evict U.S. forces if it so chooses.
"There has to be a complete break with the past, with the Iraqi government replacing the coalition," said French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.
He repeated that France would not now nor in the future send troops to Iraq but said France would join its European partners in helping to rebuild Iraq.
Powell said he and the foreign ministers devoted considerable time to discussing Iraq "because all of us share an interest in a peaceful, stable Iraq."
They also discussed the Arab-Israeli peace process and how to bring political and economic reform to a broader Middle East, he said.
That is expected to be on the agenda when the Group of Eight holds its annual summit next month in Sea Island, Ga.
Before their talks at the State Department, Powell and the ministers met briefly at the White House with President Bush (news - web sites).
McClellan said Bush and the ministers discussed the "mission they're working to accomplish in Iraq and about the importance of setting aside past differences."
On the Net:
Group of Eight: http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/
G-8 Summit: http://g8usa.gov/