WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States voiced support on Friday for the U.N. envoy in Afghanistan in what one U.S. official said was a bid to show confidence in him despite charges he turned a blind eye to fraud in the Afghan election.
Ambassador Kai Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat, has been the object of scathing allegations by his former U.S. deputy, Peter Galbraith, that the United Nations effectively allowed the Aug. 20 election to be stolen.
Eide issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The accusations that the United Nations has covered up or that I asked for fraud to be covered up are patently false.”
In a brief statement issued late on Friday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly voiced backing for Eide.
“The United States fully supports United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and Special Representative Kai Eide in UNAMA’s oversight of and support for Afghanistan’s election processes on behalf of the world community,” Kelly said.
“We are in close cooperation with UNAMA and Ambassador Eide, and believe that the agency and its leadership have shown sound judgment in the conduct of their mission,” he added.
Galbraith, a close ally of U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, was dismissed by the United Nations on Sept. 30 after he took an aggressive and outspoken stand on charges of fraud in the election.
Preliminary results gave Afghan President Hamid Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. If an official fraud investigation reduces his share below 50 percent, he would face a runoff against his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Karzai has acknowledged some fraud took place, but says the extent of it was exaggerated by Western officials and media.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition he not be named said the statement was designed to buttress the credibility of the Norwegian diplomat and the U.N. mission in Kabul after charges the United Nations acquiesced in a flawed election process.
U.S. officials said there was a debate in Washington over whether to issue the statement of support for Eide, with some arguing it was better not to get in the middle of the feuding between Galbraith and the Norwegian diplomat.
Others, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, believed it was important to show confidence in Eide and they eventually prevailed, the officials said.
“The disagreement became personal but, in a sense, it was ultimately about the (election) process and the credibility of the process,” said one U.S. official who spoke on condition he not be identified.
“He (Eide) is in the middle of managing a situation ... and ultimately it does go to the credibility of the process, for which we obviously do have a significant (concern),” he added, saying the State Department ultimately concluded “we really need to show our support for the (UNAMA) leadership.”
Editing by Peter Cooney