Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Never say never"

Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested that the plan to hand sovereignty over to the Iraqis on June 30 might need to be reconsidered:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell signaled Wednesday that the administration might delay plans to return sovereignty to Iraqis by June 30, telling a congressional oversight panel that violence continued to vex U.S. and Iraqi officials.

In his first appearance before Congress to explain the State Department budget for fiscal 2005, Powell said the administration was "looking forward to transferring authority at the end of June, if all goes well."

But he added that "we have a difficult security problem" in Iraq, as evidenced by a suicide bombing in Baghdad on Wednesday that killed at least 47 people and came only a day after a blast near the Iraqi capital killed more than 50.

Powell's comments to the House International Relations Committee about the hand-over deadline follow similar hints by other U.S. and United Nations officials that the date may change. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week that he would "never say never" on altering the deadline and noted that the decision was ultimately up to President Bush.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that if concerned parties all wanted to change the hand-over date, "I don't think we should be able to resist."

Despite his suggestion that a delay was possible, Powell sought to emphasize that the administration wanted to meet the deadline. "We are pressing to that end," he said.


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