05 March 1998
(Ambassador Prakash Shah of India appointed to UN post) (770) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- A senior Indian diplomat has been appointed to a newly-created UN position to help relations with Iraq, the UN announced March 5. Ambassador Prakash Shah, a former Indian envoy to the UN, has been named by Secretary General Kofi Annan as the Secretary General's special envoy in Baghdad for an initial period of six months. Shah, who is expected to set up offices in the Iraqi capital before the end of the month, will have a small team of international and local staff. In a letter to the UN Security Council informing members of the appointment, Annan said that as special envoy Shah "will follow closely all developments relevant to the role of the United Nations with regard to Iraq." "He will lend his support to existing United Nations activities in the arms control, humanitarian and economic and social fields while giving special attention to any crisis or problem which might benefit from intervention by United Nations headquarters," the Secretary General said. Announcing Shah's appointment March 5, the Secretary General referred "to the difficulties arising from time to time in the relations between Iraq and the United Nations and to the need for improved lines of communication between the Government of Iraq and my office in order to help avert the development of such difficulties into a fully-fledged crisis threatening to undermine international peace and security in the area." Annan has been talking of smoothing relations between the UN and Iraq since undertaking his diplomatic mission to Baghdad to ease the possibility of military strikes over Iraq's refusal to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. The appointment is also the second high-level political/diplomatic one concerning Iraq-UN relations since he returned from Baghdad. On February 26, Annan named internationally known disarmament expert Undersecretary General Jayantha Dhanapala, a former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN, to head the new group of diplomats and weapons inspectors that will visit Iraq's presidential sites. The UN Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraq weapons (UNSCOM) gaining access to the sites, which had been previously off-limits to UN weapons inspectors, and the creation of the special group, are included in the agreement negotiated in Baghdad by Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Returning from Iraq, Annan spoke of a need to help Iraq cooperate with the UN and ease itself back into the community of nations. The Secretary General has also invited Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf as well as the Minister of Trade and Minister of Health to New York to discuss the problems of implementing the "oil-for food" program which currently allows Iraq to sell $5,200 million worth of oil every six months to buy humanitarian supplies for Iraqi civilians. The program is carried out under very strict UN supervision. The oil-for-food talks are slated to begin on March 9. A UN spokesman said that the purpose of creating the special envoy post "is really to have a political representative of the Secretary General in Baghdad who can keep the Secretary General informed on the government's reaction to the various UN programs going on there from UNSCOM to the humanitarian office...and who can act as a vehicle for communication for him to the government." The Secretary General "was frankly surprised that he didn't have a special representative there given the political importance of Iraq to the United Nations these days," explained UN spokesman Fred Eckhard. "So he felt it was a conspicuous lack and something that would be very helpful to him," Eckhard said, adding that when the Secretary General suggested the post to Security Council members "they were in full agreement." The new special representative, the spokesman said, will not have any supervisory responsibility over the directors of the major UN programs in Iraq such as the "oil for food" and humanitarian assistance programs or UNSCOM operations, but will be a "link between the government and the Secretary General." Shah, 59, was India's Ambassador to the UN from 1995 to July 1997 and served as India's chief negotiator on Security Council reforms and vice chairman of a working group on strengthening the UN system. He was Ambassador to Japan from 1992-1995 and chief envoy to the UN in Geneva in 1991 and 1992. He was also a member of the governing council of the UN Compensation Fund which is overseeing payments to Kuwaitis and others adversely affected by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.