Tuesday, January 13, 2004

NEW YORK — The United Nations informed Washington yesterday that it is preparing to send a small team of security and military advisers to Baghdad in the next few weeks, a likely preparation for a more robust return to Iraq.

Kieran Prendergast, undersecretary-general for political affairs, sent a letter to Ambassador John D. Negroponte informing the American diplomat of the organization’s intention to send four advisers to Iraq.

A return of political and economic specialists as well as humanitarian staff would depend on whether the organization can find suitable space in which to live and work.

U.N. officials were reluctant to discuss the letter, which was circulated informally among diplomats yesterday. But one U.S. official called it “a major development” and said it signaled a likely resumption of U.N. activities.

Mr. Prendergast met yesterday afternoon with Mr. Negroponte and staffers from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department in an effort to set conditions under which the organization would return to Iraq.

The United Nations withdrew its foreign staff from Baghdad shortly after a powerful car bomb destroyed its headquarters in August, killing 22 staffers including top diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. The pullout left programs in the hands of about 1,000 Iraqi employees.

Washington insists that the organization play a “vital role” in Iraq’s reconstruction, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that will not be feasible until the United States and Iraqi authorities first guarantee the safety of U.N. staff and provide a clear-cut picture of their responsibilities.

Senior members of the Iraqi Governing Council are to meet with Mr. Annan and coalition officials on Monday to discuss roles for the United Nations.

The council’s U.S.-appointed delegates, led by Adnan Pachachi, likely will meet with the U.N. Security Council as well.

U.S. officials played down the importance of the tripartite meeting yesterday and other council members have downgraded their expectations for a speedy U.N. return to Baghdad.

One council member said yesterday that he didn’t think the organization would make a move before the coalition hands off to an interim authority on June 30, and urged Mr. Annan to plan for the post-occupation phase, when Iraqi ministries and agencies will have expanded responsibilities.

“I don’t see much of a role for the U.N. in the first phase,” said one diplomat, referring to the nearly six months remaining before the coalition turns over control to a provisional Iraqi government.

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