Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said the team, which arrived over the weekend and is led by his Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, would stay in Iraq for about a week. “I would hope to be able to give my decision to the Governing Council before the end of the month,” the Secretary-General added.Asked by reporters to characterize the talks so far, Mr. Annan said, “I think the work of the team is going extremely well.” He noted that it has already met with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Iraqi Governing Council and its individual members, as well as other Iraqis, and confirmed that Mr. Brahimi will also be meeting with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a leading cleric who has advocated direct elections.”As I indicated before they left, they should see as broad a range of people as possible, and so they are reaching out and are open to talking as many groups as possible,” he added. “So far, so good. The atmosphere has been good, they have been well received and there has been very good and frank discussions.”In response to a question on whether the 30 June date for the hand over was still firm, the Secretary-General recalled that when both parties were in New York last month for talks with him, they indicated their preference for keeping that deadline.”We are working on that assumption, but of course as I said, we are going to talk to all parties,” he said. “If the parties were to agree to other arrangements, I think it would be difficult to reject it. We will have to consider it.”After the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council Monday afternoon, Ambassador Wang Guangya of China, which holds the Council’s rotating Presidency, said the 15-member body supported Mr. Annan’s decision to send the fact-finding team to Iraq.”They believe this decision will be conducive to the political process in Iraq,” Ambassador Wang told the press after the closed-door meeting. He added that the members looked forward to another briefing from the Secretary-General after the team delivers its report.Meanwhile on the ground, the fact-finding team continued its discussions with a broad cross section of the Iraqi political spectrum, meeting with individual members of the Governing Council, as well as various representatives of Iraqi civil society.According to a UN spokesman, Mr. Brahimi stressed throughout these meetings that the UN team was there with no agenda other than to assist the Iraqi people in their quest for self-determination, independence and restoration of sovereignty.Mr. Brahimi described himself as “in listening mode,” emphasizing the independence and neutrality of the United Nations as Iraqis debate whether elections are the best means for the transfer of power by 30 June, spokesman Fred Eckhard said at a press briefing.On Saturday, Mr. Brahimi met separately with L. Paul Bremer, head of the United States-led CPA, and then with his British deputy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.Yesterday, he saw the current President of the Governing Council, Kurdish leader Mohsen Abdul Hamid, and then met with the full Council. Afterwards, Mr. Brahimi had a series of bilateral meetings with individual Council members, starting with Shiite leader Muwaffak al-Rubaie followed by talks with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and Communist Party head Hameed Moussa.After that, he briefly joined a meeting between the UN’s chief electoral adviser, Carina Perelli, and an Iraqi technical team from Najaf to discuss election issues. Ms. Perelli is accompanied by two other UN electoral experts on this visit, Mr. Eckhard said.Mr. Brahimi then saw Abdelaziz al-Hakim, another Shiite leader, and then had a dinner meeting with former Foreign Minister, Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni. Video of Kofi Annan’s remarks

Annan hopes to make decision on Iraq elections by end of February
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