UN will facilitate Iraq regional dialogue: Mistura

November 18, 2007 - 0:0

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- The United Nations' priority in Iraq is to facilitate dialogue between neighbors of the war-ravaged country whose instability threatens the region, new UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said.

De Mistura in a wide-ranging interview with AFP defended the world body's achievements in Iraq and said he would be able to ""do more"" within the extended mandate granted by Security Council Resolution 1770, passed in August.
The Swede, new representative in Iraq for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, arrived in Baghdad on November 11, replacing Pakistani Ashraf Qazi.
""In the context of the next 12 months which are crucial for Iraq, it must be shown that the UN can make a difference for peace in Iraq, and also for international stability,"" de Mistura said in his first media interview since taking up his post.
""My first priority is to facilitate regional dialogue and contacts between the regional protagonists,"" said Mistura. ""We want to put in place 'ad hoc' working groups to follow up the work of the multinational meetings, such as that in Istanbul,"" he said.
He was referring to a conference of neighbors of Iraq held at the end of October in Istanbul to discuss the impact of the situation in Iraq on regional security.
""Some of the protagonists do not speak to each other but could do so via the UN,"" he said.
""My second priority is to facilitate the negotiation of the provincial borders in the north of Iraq"", de Mistura added, without wishing to elaborate.
The boundaries of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq have still to be delimited and the fate of the oil city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to incorporate into their zone, is a source of litigation between the Arab and Turkoman communities.
Resolution 1770 assigns to the UN the role of mediator between opposing parties in Iraq ""as far as circumstances permit.""
""The role of the UN will depend on what the Iraqis themselves and the principal protaganists ask us to do and will depend on those areas where we can be useful,"" the UN envoy said.
""The UN has been in Iraq for 40 years and we intend to remain here as long as the Iraqis need us,"" he added.
""We have had up and downs, we were associated with sanctions then we were associated with the oil for food program, which was tainted by scandals,"" he acknowledged.
But, he added, the UN played an active role in vaccination campaigns of Iraqi children and helped fight a recent epidemic of cholera. The organization also helped schoolchildren get books and materials. ""Without the UN, these children would be on the street today instead of being in class.
""But we can do more,"" said the diplomat.
He said that 363 international personnel, many of them security guards, and 200 Iraqis currently work for the UN in Iraq. Others are based in neighboring countries, the majority in Jordan.
""My principal concern is the safety of the Iraqis and that of UN personnel.""
On August 19, 2003, an attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 people, including the chief of mission, Sergio Viera di Mello.
De Mistura has for more than three decades worked in a variety of UN posts in world trouble spots, including Somalia, the Middle East, the Balkans and Nepal.
He had also previously served in Iraq, including as the UN chief's deputy special representative.