The U.N. Security Council gave resounding approval Tuesday to a resolution endorsing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's new government by the end of June. President Bush said the measure will set the stage for democracy in Iraq and be a "catalyst for change" in the Middle East.
The unanimous 15-0 vote came after a last-minute compromise allowed France and Germany to drop their objections to the U.S.-British resolution, which underwent four revisions over weeks of tough negotiations. Diplomats on the council, which was deeply divided over the war, welcomed the Americans' flexibility.
The compromise gives Iraqi leaders control over the activities of their own fledgling security forces and a say on "sensitive offensive operations" by the U.S.-led multinational force — such as the controversial siege of Fallujah. But the measure stops short of granting the Iraqis a veto over major U.S.-led military operations.
The resolution spells out the powers and the limitations of the new interim Iraqi government that will assume power on June 30. It authorizes the multinational force to remain in Iraq to help ensure security but gives the Iraqi government the right to ask the force to leave at any time.
Bush claimed victory before the vote, telling reporters at the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga., that a unanimous approval would tell the world that the council nations "are interested in working together to make sure Iraq is free, peaceful and democratic."
"These nations understand that a free Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East, which is an important part of winning the war on terror," Bush said.
But his administration lowered expectations of gaining other countries' military support — one of the original hopes behind the resolution. Four members of the Group of Eight summit — France, Germany, Russia and Canada — have said they won't send troops to take the burden off the 138,000 American soldiers and the 24,000 troops from coalition partners.
Nevertheless, the adoption of the resolution will likely buy time for the new Iraqi government, boosting its international stature as it struggles to win acceptance and cope with a security crisis at home.
The interim government — put together by a U.N. envoy, the Americans and their Iraqi allies — hopes the vote will give it a legitimacy that eluded its predecessor, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. That legitimacy would put it in a better position to curry support among fellow Arab regimes and seek economic help from abroad.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted it would have a "positive impact" on security by removing the perception of the U.S.-led multinational force as an occupying power.
Although the resolution says the interim government will have authority to ask the force to leave, new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi indicated in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell that the force will remain at least until an elected transitional government takes power early next year.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said many French ideas were incorporated in the final text though Paris would have liked a clearer definition of the relationship between the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led force.
"That doesn't stop us from a positive vote in New York to help in a constructive way find a positive exit to this tragedy," he told France-Inter radio.
Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, meeting in Washington with Powell, brushed off any suggestion that there might be disagreement between U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
"We are working together," al-Yawer told reporters. "These people are in our country to help us."
He added: "We have to think proactive. We cannot afford to be pessimistic."
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he hopes "that now there will finally be a stabilization of the security situation in Iraq."
France and Germany had been among the sharpest critics in the Security Council of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.
On Tuesday, Barnier said that during the weeks of negotiations on the resolution "there was a real dialogue for the first time in this affair."
"The Americans clearly understood, after months and months of military operations, that there was no way out by arms, by military operations in Iraq," the foreign minister said.
"Washington understood that we have to get out of this tragedy by the high road."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the vote "an important milestone for the new Iraq."
"We all now want to put the divisions of the past behind us and unite behind the vision of a modern democratic and stable Iraq that will be a force for good not just for the Iraqi people themselves but for the whole of the region and therefore the wider world," Blair said in Sea Island.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who will become U.S. ambassador to Iraq after the handover of power, said the unanimous vote was "a vivid demonstration" of broad international support for "a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq in which there is full respect for political and human rights."