UN appoints Norwegian diplomat as new Syria envoy
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment on Wednesday of veteran Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen to one of the agency’s toughest jobs - trying to bring peace to Syria after more than seven years of war.
Guterres said Pedersen brings to the job as his special envoy for Syria decades of political and diplomatic experience for his government and the United Nations, most recently as Norway's ambassador to China and before that as its UN ambassador.
In a letter posted by Emirati newspaper the National, Guterres said he consulted "broadly" when making the decision, including with Syria's government.
"Mr Pederson will support the Syrian parties by facilitating an inclusive and credible political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people," Guterres added.
Pedersen will succeed Staffan de Mistura, who announced on 17 October that he would step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who became the UN's third Syria envoy in July 2014, said he was leaving for "purely personal reasons" and had discussed his plans with Guterres.
During his tenure, the process of negotiations between the main backers of the government and armed opposition has shifted from the UN in Geneva to the Astana process, led by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The group pushed through a number of de-escalation zones last year, and more recently agreed on a buffer zone in northern Syria's Idlib.
De Mistura reiterated this week that he is engaged in a final effort to advance toward a new constitution for Syria - a key step in ending the country's civil war. But he said objections from the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of a committee meant to draft the new constitution.
'Inclusive and credible political solution'
On Wednesday, Guterres informed the Security Council in a letter obtained by the Associated Press that he had selected Pedersen and called on the international community and the Syrian government to give him "unified and unwavering support".
He said Pedersen will provide "good offices" and lead UN efforts to facilitate "an inclusive and credible political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people" and bring peace to the country.
Pedersen has served the UN in various roles, including as special coordinator for Lebanon in 2007-2008.
He was a member of Norway's team that negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords, which resulted in mutual recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, and was Norway's representative to the Palestinian Authority between 1998 and 2003.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday that Pedersen hopefully will take up his new job at the end of November.
"Obviously, this has been an extremely frustrating war for reasons that are well beyond the capabilities of even our most experienced diplomats," he said. "But we are hopeful that the time has come to finally turn a corner and end this war."