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HEADLINE: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Says Constitution Deadline Can Be Met

INTRO: The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq says he believes Iraqi leaders can complete a draft constitution by their Monday deadline. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House on this latest expression of optimism from the Bush administration.

TEXT: As Iraqi officials approached the constitution deadline, the White House put Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on American television to talk about the drafting process and the stakes involved.

In interviews Sunday with several broadcast networks, including the Fox News Sunday program, America's chief diplomat in Baghdad said work is far from complete on a draft constitution, but the deadline can be met.


"I have just come from meetings with the Iraqi leaders, and they tell me they are very optimistic they will meet the deadline."

/// END ACT ///

Speaking via satellite from the Iraqi capital, he said most of the issues that once divided the drafters have been resolved. But on ABC's This Week program, he acknowledged that those that remain are the toughest. They include the role of Islam, as well as how to go about the delicate process of bringing various regional and ethnic groups together in one unified democratic government. All the same, he stressed the constitution should be seen in a broader context.


"I look at the constitution as a national compact, an agreement among the various communities about the future."

/// END ACT ///

In all his interviews, the ambassador was asked about reports that the United States was pushing its own draft language. Mr. Khalilzad, a close associate of President Bush, said the Iraqi constitution is very important to the White House. But he denied Washington has been directing the drafting process in any way.

He told ABC that, when the Iraqis asked for his help, he provided it.


"We have offered them, at their request, options for bridging differences. It's of course, ultimately up to the Iraqis to choose from the options, or even come up with additional options of their own."

/// END ACT ///

The ambassador said he hopes the new constitution will bring Sunnis into the political system, enshrine equal rights for women, and help end the insurgency.

On NBC's Meet the Press program, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he has seen no evidence that the insurgency is weakening, and stressed progress is needed on three tracks: political, military and reconstruction.

/// BIDEN ACT ///

"I am not sure that political progress alone, absent military and economic progress, will make the difference that this administration seems to be counting on."

/// END ACT ///

Senator Biden, who returned in June from his fifth trip to Iraq, stressed that he has been urging the Bush administration for some time to send more troops. He said one of the best steps the White House has taken is to choose Zalmay Khalilzad for the sensitive post of ambassador. Mr. Khalilzad came to Iraq recently after a stint as U.S. ambassador to his native Afghanistan, where he helped Afghan leaders through a difficult initial transition process after the defeat of the Taleban. (SIGNED)


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