- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

GENEVA — The new U.N. special envoy for Iraq, Ross Mountain, says the humanitarian and reconstruction work in the war-ravaged country should be intensified.

Mr. Mountain, 59, a gregarious New Zealander and a veteran U.N. career official, earned a solid reputation for a hands-on approach in field missions in some of the world’s most volatile spots, such as Lebanon, East Timor, Afghanistan, Liberia and Haiti.

Mr. Mountain said one of his main tasks will be to focus on the humanitarian aspects of the Iraq mission.

An Aug. 19 terrorist attack on the U.N. compound in Baghdad killed 22 persons, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was the U.N. special envoy at the time.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Mr. Mountain to the special representative post.

Asked in an interview this week about the United Nations’ relationship with L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, and the Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Mountain said he was optimistic.

“Of course there are close and continuing contacts with the CPA and the Governing Council. The U.N. secretary-general has been very concerned to develop such efforts as the U.N. may make, and does make, inside with the various Iraqi authorities.”

Mr. Mountain said that most of the U.N. international staff will be posted outside Iraq for now.

“We do hope the conditions will be such that we are able to return [to Iraq] with international staff, and we do still have some in the north, as soon as possible. But conditions on the ground will decide that,” he said.

Referring to the problem of trying to run the operation from Nicosia, Cyprus, Mr. Mountain said the world body’s staff of Iraqis is doing “a remarkable job.”

But he conceded, “it’s most certainly not an ideal situation. And I would not wish to pretend that. It’s obviously much better to be in the country. We seek to do that as soon as we can. But the security situation permitting.

“Let me say, too, it is not exactly a magic formula to be sitting in Baghdad in a compound where you can’t get out and you have to be armed like a fortress, as it were.”

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