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.


Egypt, Sudan suspend talks with Ethiopia over disputed dam

Updated 32 min 23 sec ago

Egypt, Sudan suspend talks with Ethiopia over disputed dam

  • Sudan and Egypt object to Ethiopia’s filling of the reservoir on the dam without a deal among the three nations
  • The issue of Ethiopia’s dam also threatens to escalate into a full-blown regional conflict as years of talks with a variety of mediators have failed

CAIRO: Egypt and Sudan suspended talks with Ethiopia after it proposed linking a deal on its newly constructed reservoir and giant hydroelectric dam to a broader agreement about the Blue Nile waters that would replace a colonial-era accord with Britain.
The African Union-led talks among the three key Nile basin countries are trying to resolve a years-long dispute over Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Ethiopia says the dam will provide electricity to millions of its nearly 110 million citizens, while Egypt, with its own booming population of about 100 million, sees the project as an existential threat that could deprive it of its share of the Nile waters. The confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum forms the Nile River that flows the length of Egypt.
A colonial-era deal between Ethiopia and Britain effectively prevents upstream countries from taking any action — such as building dams and filling reservoirs — that would reduce the share of Nile’s water which the deal gave downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan. Blue Nile is the source of as much as 85% of the Nile River water.
Sudan’s Irrigation Minster Yasir Abbas said that Ethiopia’s proposal on Tuesday threatened the entire negotiations, which had just resumed through online conferencing Monday.
Sudan and Egypt object to Ethiopia’s filling of the reservoir on the dam without a deal among the three nations. On Monday, the three agreed that technical and legal teams would continue their talks on disputed points, including how much water Ethiopia would release downstream in case of a major drought.
Ethiopia on Tuesday floated a proposal that would leave the operating of the dam to a comprehensive treaty on the Blue Nile, according to Abbas, the Sudanese minister.
“Sudan will not accept that lives of 20 million of its people who live on the banks of the Blue Nile depend on a treaty,” he said. He said Sudan would not take part in talks that link a deal on teh dam to a deal on the Blue Nile.
With the rainy season, which started last month, bringing more water to the Blue Nile, Ethiopia wants to fill the reservoir as soon as possible.
Ethiopia’s irrigation ministry said Wednesday the proposal was “in line” with the outcome of an African Union summit in July and Monday’s meeting of the irrigation ministers. It said the talks are expected to reconvene on Aug. 10, as proposed by Egypt.
Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele tweeted Tuesday that his country would like to sign the first filling agreement as soon as possible and “also continue negotiation to finalize a comprehensive agreement in subsequent periods.”
The issue of Ethiopia’s dam also threatens to escalate into a full-blown regional conflict as years of talks with a variety of mediators, including the US, have failed to produce a solution.