Norwegian Diplomat Named New UN Envoy to Syria

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Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen was appointed as the new United Nations special envoy to Syria, announced a UN spokesman on Wednesday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council on Tuesday announcing his intention to appoint Pedersen, 63, currently Norway's ambassador to China.

A seasoned diplomat, Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

He will succeed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, who announced he was stepping down to spend more time with his family after four years in the demanding post.

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

Brahimi stepped in after former UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role. Annan described the Syria envoy's job as "mission impossible".

UN spokesman Farhan Haq announced the appointment and said Pedersen is expected to begin work at the end of November.

He will become the fourth emissary to take up one of the most difficult peacemaking jobs at the world body.

UN diplomatic efforts to end the war have stalled but the UN leads a massive humanitarian effort to help millions uprooted and in need of medical and food aid.

More than 360,000 people have been killed in the war, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against regime head Bashar Assad, but has morphed into a complex conflict with myriad armed groups, many of whom are foreign-backed.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide welcomed Guterres' decision to appoint one of her country's "foremost diplomats" and stressed that "finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria is one of the most difficult tasks facing the UN."

Pedersen has some knowledge of Arabic and is considered a skilled negotiator who can "find solutions and compromises in difficult issues," a Norwegian diplomat said.

The father of five served as Norway's UN ambassador from 2012 to 2017 before becoming his country's envoy to China last year.

He was special coordinator for Lebanon from 2007 to 2008 and UN envoy for southern Lebanon from 2005 to 2007. He also worked as director of the Asia and Pacific division in the UN political affairs department.

Pedersen also served as Norwegian representative to the Palestinian Authority between 1998 and 2003.

Supporters of Yemen's slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a rally in Sanaa. (Reuters)
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