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Our View: New face for job that has become synonymous with failure

Could this man succeed where so many others have failed?

A NEW Special Advisor of the UN Secretary-General is set to be announced in the next few days. The man tipped to replace Alexander Downer, who resigned earlier this year, is former foreign minister of Norway Espen Barth Eide. A member of the Norwegian Labour Party, Eide also served as defence minister. He had previously worked for the UN and was managing director of the World Economic Forum.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said that Nicosia had signalled its consent to the appointment, President Anastasiades having previously consulted the party leaders. The Turkish Cypriot side, reportedly, also gave its consent. Since Downer’s resignation the UNSG’s Special Envoy in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim had been in charge of the Cyprus negotiations that appear to have stalled, but are expected to resume next month.

The original choice for the post was the American former Under-Secretary-General of the UN Lynn Pascoe, but it appeared that neither side was too keen on the appointment of the brash, no-nonsense diplomat despite his good knowledge of the Cyprus problem. Pascoe, who had been in charge of the Political Affairs Department of the UN for five years, until his retirement in 2012, may have been too pushy for the liking of either side, even though he had the backing of Washington that could have secured concessions from Ankara.

Apart from the support of the US government, Pascoe had another advantage over Eide – he knew the Cyprus problem and would not have required an adjustment period for familiarising himself with the issue. The Norwegian, on the other hand, could not be accused of having a hidden agenda the way an American special advisor would. He could also be a quick learner and skilled facilitator/mediator who would adopt a fresh approach and make a difference.

Eide will however know that there have been countless Special Advisors before him, all of whom failed to achieve the desired result, not because of professional inadequacy or lack of commitment but because the two sides are more interested in keeping the procedure going than in an actual settlement. He will also know that the job will not make him popular – if one side approves of his actions, the other will not and both would be waiting for him to make a mistake so they could start criticising his alleged bias.

Given the history of the Cyprus talks, it is a wonder that any respected politician or diplomat would be willing to take on the job of UNSG’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, a job title that has become synonymous with failure.

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