* Galbraith to handle political issues in Afghanistan
* U.N. denies tensions with U.S. over envoy Eide
* Had assisted Holbrooke in past (Adds quotes, details, background; byline)
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, March 25 The United Nations namedU.S. diplomat and academic Peter Galbraith on Wednesday to be deputy envoy to Afghanistan to assist Richard Holbrooke, U.S. point-man for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Galbraith, 58, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, succeeds Christopher Alexander of Canada as political deputy to U.N. special envoy Kai Eide. Alexander completes his assignment at the end of March, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said. Another deputy deals with humanitarian and development issues.
Montas said Galbraith would handle electoral, parliamentary and other political issues in the conflict-ridden nation where presidential elections are due in August, as well as peace and stability, security sector reform and human rights.
As U.N. officials have been doing for some days, Montas denied media suggestions that the United States was seeking to sideline Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, by having an American appointed as deputy.
A March 17 report in The Times of London quoted an unnamed U.S. diplomatic source as saying Holbrooke "regards (Eide) as useless and ineffective."
"This does not reflect the reality," Montas said. She said that when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met President Barack Obama in Washington two weeks ago, Obama "had very strong praise for Kai Eide's work in Afghanistan and for the U.N. role in Afghanistan."
Ban himself, in a statement on Monday apparently prompted by the Times report, commended Eide's leadership and noted that the U.N. Security Council had done so too.
NEGOTIATED END TO CONFLICTL
Galbraith, currently a fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, was the first U.S.ambassador to Croatia following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He played a role in efforts led by Holbrooke to end the 1992-95 war in neighboring Bosnia.
Later he served in a U.N. transitional administration that prepared East Timor, a former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia in 1975, for independence in 2002. He has also written two books critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.
Montas said Galbraith, son of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, and Eide had been "friends for years."
U.N. diplomats have said privately, however, that Holbrooke and Eide have had disagreements about Afghanistan. Eide himself, when asked about the Times report, said that both of them have strong personalities and "short fuses".
The appointment of Eide a year ago was itself surrounded by controversy after Kabul objected to the first U.N. choice, Briton Paddy Ashdown. Afghan officials were reacting to Western press reports that Ashdown would be an all-powerful "super-envoy" who would overshadow President Hamid Karzai.
Eide heads the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA, which has 1,300 civilian staff and deals with political reconciliation and aid issues. A military struggle against Taliban insurgents is waged by U.S. and NATO troops. (Editing by Philip Barbara)