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UN: Clear Mandate Required Before Any Commitment to Return to Iraq - 2003-12-10

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he has no immediate plans to redeploy international staff in Iraq. He wants any U.N. role in Iraq clearly defined before he makes a commitment.

Pointing to the continuing attacks on foreigners, the secretary-general says it is still too risky for international U.N. staff to operate in Iraq. In a report to the Security Council, Mr. Annan says U.N. personnel overseeing Iraq operations will be based in nearby Cyprus and Jordan.

Briefing journalists on the report, Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast suggested that no decision to redeploy staff would be made soon. He said the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi authorities, the Security Council and neighboring countries must all agree on a clear U.N. mandate before any commitment is made.

"Now is the time for precision," he said. "To those asking the United Nations to come back into Iraq, or to play a vital role, it's reasonable to ask them 'What do you mean?' Involvement in what areas, exactly, and on what basis exactly?"

Mr. Prendergast said the secretary-general would only consider redeploying staff to Iraq if the U.N. is allowed to play a central role in the transition process.

"There needs to be symmetry between risk that we are to be required to accept, and the substance of the role that's being carried out. In other words, for a cosmetic role, the risk threshold has to be much lower, for substantive role, or a vital role, I think the risk threshold can be higher," he said.

Mr. Prendergast noted that the secretary-general's report also reminds U.S.-led forces of their obligation to abide by international law as they attempt to restore order in Iraq.

"There is a message here that the Coalition forces need to intensify efforts to show they are observing the requirements of international humanitarian law and human rights instruments, and he says very specifically that care must be taken to avoid inflicting civilian casualties," he added.

The secretary-general's report also makes official the appointment of veteran U.N. staffer Ross Mountain to be the interim special envoy to Iraq. Mr. Mountain will serve until a permanent envoy is named, probably next month.

The report will be presented to the Security Council for debate next week.