In a pair of interviews on US Sunday talk shows, Paul Bremer would not say which proposals he thought would be put forward by UN envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi, who visited Iraq last week to assess calls for an early vote.

Speaking from Baghdad, Bremer nevertheless signaled some willingness to move forward proposed national elections, proposed under the US plan to begin on 31 January 2005.

"If we can do it sooner and have it be legitimate and if the UN and we agree that that can be done then that's not a problem if it's the end of the year or early January," he said on CNN's Late Edition.

But Bremer insisted elections could not be conducted before the June handover date set by President George Bush, who faces what could be a fierce re-election battle against a Democratic opponent in November.

"If we can do it (hold direct elections) sooner and have it be legitimate and if the UN and we agree that that can be done then that's not a problem if it's the end of the year or early January"

Paul Bremer,
US occupation administrator

Bush has come under increasing pressure for his handling of the Iraq war from his likely challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

'Open to alternatives'

"There is general agreement that there is not time to hold elections in the time frame of June. Indeed, I think that will be the conclusion of the UN," Bremer said.

And on ABC's This Week, he added: "We've said all along we're open to alternatives. We want to stick with the date."

Al-Ibrahimi is to report back to the Iraqi Governing Council "hopefully in the next week or 10 days", Bremer said. "We will look at that advice with great seriousness."

The call for an early vote, spearheaded by Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia religious authority, has derailed the US plan to hold caucuses for electing a transitional assembly.

It has also raised questions over how to pick such a body before 30 June.

The Bush administration turned to the United Nations for help after largely bypassing the world body as it proceeded with the Iraq war.

Iraq attacks

At the United Nations, officials have said it is possible elections might be scheduled before the end of the year, and that the caucus system proposed by the United States is no longer on the table.

Iraq has seen one of its bloodiest
week since last April

However, the envoys said some transfer of power would take place on 30 June, and not be delayed until after elections.

Al-Ibrahimi said on Friday the credibility of elections was more important than timing.

Bremer acknowledged the new plan "may be different from the caucus plan. It may be a modified caucus plan. It may be some form of partial election. It may be some mechanism of a national conference".

But he said on CNN: "We believe June 30 is a date that can be hit and will be hit."

The US occupation administrator in Iraq spoke after one of the bloodiest weeks since US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein on 9 April.