New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. (Screengrab)
Updated 15 January 2019

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

  • Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
  • The seasoned Norwegian diplomat replaces previous UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura

DAMASCUS: The new special UN envoy to Syria began his first trip to Damascus on Tuesday, facing the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

Norway’s Geir Pedersen, who replaces Staffan de Mistura, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The seasoned diplomat, 63, was seen entering a Damascus hotel and is expected to hold talks with senior officials, although no official program for his visit was published.

Pedersen simply said on social media that he was “looking forward to productive meetings here.”

Officials in the government of Bashar Assad set the tone for the new envoy’s tenure shortly after news of his appointment in October last year.

“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.

Assad opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.

Pedersen has not yet spoken publicly about his mission and it remains unclear what his approach will be.

De Mistura, who announced in October he was resigning for “purely personal reasons,” ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push for the formation of a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution for Syria.

In December, he acknowledged that the committee would not be formed by year’s end as was hoped.

“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” said the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

A track of peace talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition delegations is clinically dead and observers argue Assad will see little need to revive it.

Three years into the conflict that erupted when the government repressed anti-regime demonstrations, Assad was clinging to barely a third of Syrian territory and his days at the helm looked numbered.

Assad, who has been in power for more than 18 years, has now reclaimed much of the territory he lost at the beginning of the war, largely thanks to the military backing of veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia.

Non-jihadist opposition groups across Syria have little or no clout on the ground and negligible bargaining power in negotiations with Damascus.

De Mistura had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.

Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role, which he described as “mission impossible.”

Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.