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Posted on on February 2nd, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

U.N. Looks for Diplomatic Breakthroughs: U.N. looks for diplomatic breakthroughs in 2010.
Posted By Colum Lynch   Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Ban Ki-moon and his diplomatic envoys have been scouring the globe this week in search of a promising peace settlement for 2010, pursuing talks with Kim Jong Il’s government in North Korea, Afghanistan’s Taliban, and Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders.

These latest diplomatic initiatives follow a year that brought few breakthroughs on the mediation front as the U.N. strained to advance democracy in Burma, head off mass rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and manage a crisis that threatens to trigger a resumption of civil war in Sudan.

U.N. officials say the proliferation of new initiatives is largely coincidental, the product of months, if not years, of preparation, but that it provides the U.N. with an opportunity to show that it can achieve some diplomatic wins. “There’s no grand strategy here,” said one official. Here’s a survey of key U.N. diplomatic initiatives for 2010 and their prospects for success {cynics at the UN say that this is propelled by the wish to secure a reappointment for a seconf term at the UN – editor}:

1. Cyprus. Ban traveled to Cyprus this weekend to nudge Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, the parties representing the ethnic Greek and Turkish sides of the island, into a breakthrough in a conflict that has lasted more than 35 years despite repeated efforts at mediation. Ban said that he is confident that a political settlement “is within reach.” But the two Cypriot leaders appeared more downbeat about the prospects for a deal. Cyprus has been split since 1974. Talks between the two sides during the past 17 months have produced some results, including an agreement to open a pedestrian crossing in Nicosia, the divided capital. But there is concern that April elections in the Turkish section may bring a hard-liner to power. “Time is not on the side of settlement,” the two leaders acknowledged in a joint statement Monday.

2. North Korea. Ban, a former South Korean diplomat, has been seeking a role in the North Korea crisis since he first took office in January 2007. A confidential U.N. policy paper, produced on April 25, 2007, called for “intensifying and expanding engagement” with Pyongyang, and possibly for the appointment a special North Korea coordinator. But initial attempts to start talks faltered after North Korea launched its missile test and detonated its second nuclear explosive last April and May. On Sunday, Ban announced that he would send his top political advisor, B. Lynn Pascoe, a former U.S. diplomat, to Pyongyang to restart high level U.N. talks later this month. He will be joined by Ban’s top Korean aide, Kim Won-soo. Can Ban be far behind?

3. Afghanistan. The U.N.’s outgoing special representative, Kai Eide, held secret talks with members of the Taliban sometime last year. Eide has been pursuing such contacts with the Taliban since he first started his job. U.N. sources described those talks as highly preliminary, and said that they do not have the approval of the Taliban leadership, which claims that its movement is not negotiating with the U.N. But an official close to the talks confirmed that they had in fact taken place and that Eide’s successor, Staffan di Mistura, would likely continue pursuing those contacts. While these discussions offer little hope of providing a breakthrough, they could provide a useful back channel over the long haul.

4. Sudan. The U.N. faces perhaps its greatest diplomatic challenge in Sudan, which is preparing for presidential elections this year and a referendum in 2011 that will determine whether the country remains unified or whether Sudan’s southerners decide to vote for independence. Ban has said Sudan will be one of his top priorities in 2010, and he has just assigned his two top Africa specialists, Ibrahim Gambari and Haile Menkerios, to manage U.N. operations on the ground. Success in Sudan will largely be measured by the U.N.’s ability to stop the referendum from triggering a renewed civil war. “Partitioning the country without violence: that will be a miracle,” said one Security Council diplomat. “I don’t know how they are going to do it.”

5. Burma. U.N. diplomatic efforts in Burma have pretty much run aground. Ban has reassigned his top Burma envoy, Gambari, to Sudan, and made his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar of India, his temporary point man on Burma. The Burmese military junta recently rebuffed a U.N. request to invite Gambari back to the country for a final visit. U.N. diplomats say that Burma has little interest in meeting with the U.N.’s diplomatic placeholders, particularly now that the Americans are looking to engage the regime directly.

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