Canada's Manley says not Afghan envoy candidate

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, responding to renewed talk he could be named the U.N.’s new “super envoy” for Afghanistan, said on Wednesday he was not a candidate and added it would be a bad idea for a Canadian to assume the job “at this point.”

Former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley pauses during a news conference on the release of a report from the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan, in Ottawa January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The United Nations is looking for someone to replace Britain’s Paddy Ashdown, whose appointment was vetoed last month by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Although Manley said last week he was not a candidate, diplomats say he is now one of the two front runners, along with Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide.

Manley headed an independent panel which last month urged Canada to pull its military mission out of southern Afghanistan on schedule next year unless NATO committed an extra 1,000 troops to the region. Ottawa accepted the recommendation.

“He again maintains that he is not a candidate and not seeking the job,” a source close to Manley told Reuters.

“He feels it’s not a good idea for a Canadian at this point to assume a position there, even if it’s offered, because our commitment is wobbly and because of the precondition.”

Canada’s minority Conservative government is close to working out a compromise with opposition legislators to extend the country’s combat mission into 2011. Parliament has yet to vote on the compromise, which depends on NATO sending in the extra troops.

The source said twice that the idea of Manley taking up the job “at this point” would not be advisable. This leaves open the possibility that he might be more interested if Canada decided to stay until 2011 and NATO provided more troops.

The source declined to comment when pressed on this point.

A senior Western diplomat at the United Nations said that, given a choice between Eide and Manley, the Canadian would have the advantage.

“We would be happy with either candidate. We think both bring real qualities,” the diplomat told Reuters.

“I think, usually, when there’s a politician and an official in a race, then, other things being equal, it tends to go to the politician.”

Another Western diplomat said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wanted the Afghan envoy to be named by March 6.

Manley, 58, is a blunt-spoken and highly respected figure who spent 10 years as a minister in the previous Liberal government, from 1993 to 2003. At various points he also served as the minister of industry, finance and foreign affairs.

He now works as a lawyer and a businessman in Ottawa.

Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; editing by Rob Wilson