Sergei Lavrov's comments came after a day during which council members expressed concern over the proposed resolution.

"The resolution may be put to a vote by its co-authors at any time, that is their right," Lavrov told a news conference in the Norwegian capital. "But it is too early to say that a consensus can be achieved on this resolution."

The occupying countries, who plan to relinquish some of their control over Iraq on 30 June, had hoped the new draft, issued on Tuesday, would address a variety of concerns raised by Security Council members.

Members are worried about the new government's powers and how much say Iraqis will have over US-led occupation forces intended to enforce the new system.

Two major concerns about the initial draft - the absence of a termination date for the US-led multinational force, and the failure to state the new Iraqi government will have authority over its security forces - were addressed in the new draft.

But France, Germany and Russia, which criticised the initial draft, raised questions about the revised resolution during three hours of closed-door Security Council discussions, council diplomats said.

"We still need to have the language that would say that the Iraqi government's point of view will prevail over the multinational force in case of major military operations."

Abd Allah Baali,
Algeria's UN ambassador

Several other council members, including China, Chile and Algeria, said the new draft was an improvement but called for additional changes, especially in spelling out the military relationship.

"We still need to have the language that would say that the Iraqi government's point of view will prevail over the MNF (multinational force) in case of major military operations," said Algeria's UN Ambassador Abd Allah Baali. Chile's UN ambassador, Heraldo Munoz, made a similar point.

But US Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham insisted this did not belong in the resolution. "That's really an issue that we need to work out with the Iraqis," he said.

Cunningham said the US-British amendments "focus the resolution text more clearly on the objective that is before the council, which is to mark the end of the occupation and the restoration of full sovereignty to Iraq".

Full sovereignty?

The amendments also clarify the UN role, the duration of the multinational force, and other issues, he said.

The occupying powers are to hand
over some control on 30 June

But China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said: "Full sovereignty has not been fully reflected."

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere also told the council that Paris would like to see the areas in which the interim government will exercise fully sovereignty enumerated in the resolution, a French diplomat reported.

"We are not satisfied with the new version," the French diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We need clarification."

Many council members said they want to hear from UN envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi, who helped put together the interim government, and Iraq's new leadership.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hushiar Zibari was heading to New York to press for full sovereignty, and he was expected to meet the council as early as Thursday.

Call for reflection
 
Before making any final decision, Algeria's Baali said the Security Council also needs to agree on the text and "hear the Iraqi reaction about the formation of the government" to ensure there is broad support, as well as the reaction of neighbouring governments.

Many council members want to
hear from al-Ibrahimi (R) first
 

Cunningham said he expects council members to reflect on the amendments after Tuesday's "good discussion about the changes".

"We will continue to work on the resolution text and bring it to conclusion as soon as we can," he said.

The original draft resolution laid out a blueprint for a sovereign interim government in Iraq, endorsing the timetable for the country's transition to democratic government.

Under the timetable, elections will be held by 31 January 2005 for a transitional national assembly, a constitution will be drafted and put to a vote during the year, and a new Iraqi government will be elected by 31 December 2005.
 
The original draft said the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq would be reviewed after a year - or even earlier if the transitional government that takes power after January elections requests it.

Termination power

That remains in the revised draft, but it also puts an expiry date on the mandate for the multinational force - the installation of a constitutionally elected government, which is not expected until December 2005 or January 2006. It also declares the council's readiness to terminate the mandate at the request of the transitional government.

The new draft notes for the first time "that the presence of the multinational force in Iraq is at the request of the incoming interim government", but it doesn't specifically give the new leaders the right to ask the force to leave though US and British leaders have said they will go if asked.

Instead, it anticipates that the incoming government will make a formal request "to retain the presence of the multinational force" and leaves room for the date of that letter to be included in the resolution.