UN Libya envoy reflects on UAE job after conflict questions

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 5:24 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The outgoing U.N. envoy to Libya says he is reflecting on whether to accept a government-funded job in the United Arab Emirates following questions about a conflict of interest with his current job trying to get the feuding parties in Libya to agree to a peace deal.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday that the U.N. "will await the outcome"of Leon's efforts to seek clarifications, including from the UAE, and his decision on his next steps.

The UAE is backing Libya's internationally recognized government. The rival Islamist-backed government expressed shock at Leon's decision to take a high-paying job as director of the new Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi. The rival government warned Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that Leon's move threatens to destroy efforts to form a unity government.

Leon issued a statement late Thursday following a report in The New York Times citing leaked UAE emails saying the United Arab Emirates sent weapons to its Libyan government allies in violation of a U.N. arms embargo at the same time it was offering a job to Leon. The newspaper said the weapons were aimed at countering Qatar's weapons deliveries to the Islamist government in Tripoli.

Leon was originally scheduled to step down on Sept. 1 but because negotiations on a peace deal had made significant progress the U.N. asked him to stay on in hopes of getting a signed agreement. He is expected to leave next week and his replacement, Martin Kobler, has already been announced.

The Times also quoted email dated Aug. 27 in which U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman asked senior UAE leaders to allow Leon to stay on as a mediator for a few more weeks, saying he could ask the secretary-general to call to make the request.

In a statement late Thursday night, Leon said in light of the Times report, "I have decided to request a full clarification of the issue, including from the United Arab Emirate authorities, as I take time to reflect on the next steps in my professional career."

Leon's negotiations for the UAE job came to light on Nov. 4 when The Guardian newspaper in London quoted an email from the Spanish diplomat to the UAE foreign minister saying he had a strategy to "completely delegitimize" the Islamist-backed government.

Leon told reporters at the United Nations last week that the job in the UAE did not influence his mediation of the Libya agreement, though he conceded: "The optics may not be right. The appearance may not be right."

Haq, the U.N. spokesman, told reporters Friday that "the secretary-general has declared his support for the agreement reached by his special representative, Mr. Leon, and he continues to support Mr. Leon's work."

The allegations have tarnished the U.N.'s reputation and Haq made clear that the secretary-general does not want a repetition.

He said Ban will be raising the importance of all senior officials looking into any potential conflicts of interest and raising questions with U.N. authorities including its ethics office. He said the secretary-general will be discussing this issue at two upcoming senior management meetings.

"What is clear is that Mr. Leon, like all officials, does need to take responsibility for the ethics of his own actions," Haq said.