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New Afghan U.N. envoy gets strong U.S. backing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan won strong U.S. support on Monday as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged to work with the veteran diplomat in coordinating help for the turbulent country.

Kai Eide, the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, speaks during a news conference in Kabul in this April 9, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Kai Eide, on a visit to Washington in his first month on the job, said he believed he also had the support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had vetoed an earlier attempt to fill the post.

“We have no more important mission together than to help the Afghan people to find security, development and ultimately prosperity and peace within their newly democratic state,” Rice told Eide.

The Norwegian diplomat said in a speech to a Washington think tank that along with backing from the United States and the wider international community, “I feel that I have the strong confidence of the Afghan leadership and the president.”

Eide moved to Kabul last month, charged with improving coordination of international civilian and military activities and cooperation with the Afghan government.

“It is important to demonstrate that project Afghanistan is not a security project. It’s a political project and has to be coordinated as such,” Eide said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

More than seven years after U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, a Taliban insurgency in the South and East remains tenacious despite the presence of more than 50,000 U.S. and NATO troops.

“AFGHANIZATION” OF AID

A Taliban assassination attempt against Karzai on Sunday “demonstrates clearly that the security environment is challenging” said Eide, adding that such attacks by the rebels were an “expression of being on the defensive.”

“There is a significant level of crime, yes, but I do believe that the security situation is not worsening,” he said.

Eide said he wanted to improve coordination between civilian bodies and the U.S. and NATO military forces, overcome bureaucratic bottlenecks among organizations working in Afghanistan and pursue the “Afghanization” of aid to use local resources and develop Afghan expertise in projects.

“We have to spend the resources we have better than we do today,” he said, criticizing duplication of work, pricey outside consultants and aid projects tied to contracts from donor states.

Eide listed reform priorities including cleaning up the police and justice system, improving governance and building up the neglected agriculture sector in agrarian Afghanistan.

Ahead of a key Afghan aid conference in Paris in June, he said he aimed to seek more resources and to enlist new potential donors “across the board.”

“I would in particular appeal to countries who have not so far been among the important donors to contribute significantly more in the past,” he told Reuters.

Eide, a former U.N. envoy in the Balkans, is known as an effective diplomat with experience in nation-building and dealing with NATO.

He was chosen for the post after Karzai vetoed British politician Paddy Ashdown’s appointment following media speculation about the extent of his powers and possible influence over the government.

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