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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Paul Bremer Hold Press Conference on Iraq

Aired January 16, 2004 - 15:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Paul Bremer is now at the White House. And we are there live.
Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PAUL BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: ... of my regular consultations with the president and his advisers. I come back about once a month.

On this particular case, the regular consultations also involves the preparations for a meeting that the U.N. secretary general has called in New York on Monday, meeting with the president of the Governing Council of Iraq and a delegation from there and the Coalition Provisional Authority and the secretary general.

We are hoping that in those meetings on Monday we will be able once again to state the importance that the American government and the coalition attached to the United Nations playing a vital role in the political and economic developments in Iraq and in finding a way to move forward with the implementation of the agreement of November 15th to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people in the middle of the year, June 30th.

That is the main purpose of my visit back here. I've had a chance during the day today to confer with the president and with his associates on these matters, and I look forward to the meetings on Monday.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Some of your critics say that you underestimate the role of Ayatollah Sistani and the Shiite, and the fact that you have not enacted anything but a majority rule in Iraq. Do you think that you're headed toward a clash with his position and yours, which is completely different? And what role do you want the U.N. to play (OFF-MIKE)

BREMER: Well, first of all, I have the greatest respect for Ayatollah Sistani. There is a great deal that we agree with about him: first of all, that Iraq should move now to a democratic form of government; secondly, that the process by which that happens should be transparent and representative, involving all Iraqis.

And we have arranged a process which involves the selection this year of a transitional assembly and which calls for three separate elections next year, an election of a constituent assembly, a referendum on the constitution that assembly will write and elections for a democratic government at the end of the year next year.

So there's a great deal that we agree with with him.

And as for being in fundamental disagreement with him, I just don't think that's true. I think we will go forward now and implement the November 15th agreement in a way that serves the interests of all Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bremer, what will you be asking specifically of the U.N. to do in Iraq? Will you, for example, ask them to send a group of representatives to meet face to face with Sistani to begin with?

BREMER: Well, first of all, it's not really for me to say what the outcome will be in New York. It's going to be a three-way discussion between the CPA, the U.N. and the governing council.

Let us wait and see what comes of the meetings there to see what the U.N. decides it wants to do. It may well be that the United Nations will want to consider what they hear in those discussions Monday and then come up with a decision later.

We do think there's a role for the United Nations in this process I've laid out. The U.N. has a lot of expertise in organizing elections, electoral commissions, electoral laws; has a great deal of expertise it can bring to bear in the process of writing a constitution. All of these things I'm sure are going to be discussed during the course of the day Monday.

QUESTION: You said that there's no fundamental disagreement, but the ayatollah is calling for direct elections at the next stage, and the November 15th election arrangement calls for caucuses.

QUESTION: That is a disagreement.

And then if I can also ask, do you feel that in this process you're somewhat of a lame duck?

BREMER: On the question of the elections, I think the question of whether there can be elections has been addressed by the secretary general a number of times, including in his report to the Security Council of December 5th, his statements on December 15th, December 16th.

And we need to try to find a way to go forward with a transparent and representative fashion. We have doubts, as does the secretary general, that elections can, in fact, be called in the time frame of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th.

But these are questions that, obviously, need to be looked at.

We have said that we are prepared to see clarifications in the process that was laid out on the November 15th agreement, the ways in which the selection of the transitional assembly is carried forward. And I think that's one of the areas that we'll, obviously, be talking to the secretary general and his colleagues about.

As for being a lame duck, I welcome the prospect of returning to private sector on the 1st of July and I expect to.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, do you have any doubts about that June 30th deadline, about meeting that still? Is that the bottom line, I guess?

BREMER: No. I think the president is clear, as are we all, that we want to implement the timeline and the processes that were laid out in the November 15th agreement, including the handing of sovereignty back to the Iraqis on June 30th.

And I have to say, in my conversations with Iraqi politicians and just people -- I was at a town hall meeting in Nasiriyah about a week ago -- it's quite clear that the Iraqi people also are anxious to get sovereignty back. And we're not anxious to extend our period of occupation, as the occupation authority, past June 30th. So we're intending to stick to the timeline that we've laid out.

QUESTION: So what refinements then are you willing to consider to make this all happen?

BREMER: Well, I don't want to go into the technical details of refinements. But there, obviously, are a number of ways in which the kind of selection can go forward.

There are -- if you talk to experts in these matters -- all kinds of ways to organize partial elections and caucuses. And I'm not an election expert, so I don't want to go into the details. But we've always said we're willing to consider refinements and that's something that we will be willing to discuss at the appropriate time.

O'BRIEN: L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian leading the U.S. occupation of Iraq, speaking to reporters after meeting with senior administration officials.

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