Interview - UN envoy says Obama a new chance for Afghanistan

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By John Acher

OSLO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The installation of a new U.S. administration offers a fresh opportunity to tackle Afghanistan's problems and the chance must not be wasted, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan said on Tuesday.

Kai Eide also told a seminar in the Norwegian capital that Afghanistan might face a severe food shortage from around March next year and would need more aid to bridge the gap until the next harvest.

"Any change in administration ... gives us an opportunity to energise the process, bring countries more closely together and thereby get greater momentum in what we are doing on the ground," Eide told Reuters at the conference at the Norwegian Red Cross. "This administration has that opportunity."

President-elect Barack Obama has said he will increase the U.S. military presence and offer to talk to moderate Taliban leaders, and has urged a regional approach to Afghanistan's problems.

Eide said the international community should follow up agreements made by donors in June to help Afghanistan, which faces a strengthening insurgency seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Islamist Taliban.

"It is very important that we do not focus on the military contributions alone, but that we have a wide agenda in mind as we agreed at the Paris conference on June 12," said Eide.

He said he was looking forward to a review of Afghan policy by the Obama administration and said the United Nations wanted to work with Washington.

"I don't think there is a need for new strategies but a need for more disciplined implementation of the strategy we have."

"Let's see how we can best support the positive trends that we now see on the ground," Eide said, adding that he was still worried about security, including attacks on aid workers.

"I am sick and tired of the pessimism and doom and gloom statements," said Eide who was appointed special envoy in March.

"The security situation is serious. There is no doubt about it," he said, noting a sharp rise in "security incidents" and that the United Nations deems around 90 districts out of nearly 400 to be high-risk areas.

Progress has been made in some areas, such as the fight against corruption by the new interior minister and efforts to limit poppy growing for opium to southern provinces, he said.

Eide said eight to nine million Afghans needed food aid and the government and aid agencies were placing food supplies in vulnerable areas. The problem will be gravest from March-April next year when food supplies are depleted.

More should be done to strengthen Afghan agriculture. "We have to get away from the situation where every six months we have to issue appeals for food or face humanitarian crisis."

(Reporting by John Acher, editing by Tim Pearce)

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