UN General Assembly chief 'optimistic' about Syria talks

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 12:55 PM
UN General Assembly chief 'optimistic' about Syria talks

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The president of the U.N. General Assembly said Wednesday that he is "cautiously optimistic" about negotiations on a Syria peace deal because the main powers with a stake in the conflict share the goal of defeating Islamic State extremists.

Mogens Lykketoft also told The Associated Press that wealthy nations, particularly in Europe, should have done more sooner to help Syrian refugees survive in their overburdened regional host countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon.

Lykketoft, who is from Denmark, told AP that that he is saddened by "xenophobic feelings and fears" expressed by some in Europe in response to the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in recent months.

On internal U.N. politics, Lykkehoft said he hopes the next U.N. chief will be a woman, which would be a first for the world body. A woman as the world's top diplomat "would be a brilliant idea," provided she meets the criteria for the job, he said.

The term of the current U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, expires at the end of this year, and Lykketoft has been lobbying for greater transparency and General Assembly involvement in selecting candidates. Currently, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council play a key role in the selection.

During his visit to Jordan, Lykkehoft visited the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees and met with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

U.N.-mediated talks on a political solution for Syria are due to begin next week, but delays are possible because of disagreement over which Syrian opposition groups should be allowed to attend.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Wednesday, but it was not clear if they managed to resolve their differences. Both sides said they did not support a delay in the talks.

Once the talks begin, "we have reason to be ... cautiously optimistic" because world powers and regional players such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran have a "very important common interest" in defeating IS, he said. This common goal "is what should be guiding us toward the roadmap" for a political settlement, he added.

At the same time, the world must spend far more money and resources to help war refugees and those displaced by natural disasters, he said.

A U.N. panel estimated in a recent report that $40 billion is needed in humanitarian aid worldwide each year, but that only $25 billion is being spent.

Lykkehoft said the missing $15 billion amounts to a tiny fraction of global wealth and that spending the money now is preferable to facing new waves of migration.

Humanitarian aid is not only important for "human solidarity," he said, it is also in the "fundamental self-interest of the rest of the world."