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Eide avoids finger pointing to keep talks hope alive

UN special envoy Espen Barth Eide

NOBODY expected the much-maligned Espen Barth Eide to blame either side for the talks fiasco in Crans-Montana. After briefing the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday night, he followed the neutral line of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in announcing the end of the conference, two weeks ago.

In fact, Eide also took a share of the blame speaking about a “collective failure” to stitch together a deal. “Despite the fact that towards the end of the conference we saw more and more pieces of the puzzle actually coming on the table that came late, but were not able to stitch it together to a total deal,” he said on Tuesday night.

Like most diplomats facilitating a peace process, Eide was inclined to see the glass half-full and showed the propensity to focus on the positives rather than the negatives of the conference. Blaming either side or declaring the differences unbridgeable would have meant the end of the process and closing of the UNSG’s good offices mission, which, it seems, the Security Council, after its two-hour briefing by Eide and Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar, was not prepared to sanction yet.

Too much had been achieved in the two years of talks to wind up the process now and according to Eide this was the view expressed by the members of the Security Council, who felt the settlement was closer than ever before. “There was more substance, more understanding,” than ever before and it would “be sad if this were lost and not recorded,” said Eide, whose refusal to give up on the process is quite astonishing.

Then again, it should be noted that the Norwegian diplomat is following the instructions of the UNSG and the Security Council, who feel the window of opportunity should not be closed. This was why he spoke about the need for a period of reflection by the two leaders. “I think it’s quite urgent that this reflection is done in the spirit of understanding and compromise rather than exacerbating the differences that clearly exist, because otherwise it would be very difficult to start anew any process.”

How long the period of reflection would last is anybody’s guess, but it is very doubtful it would be longer than a couple of months. Eide made it very clear that it was up to the two leaders to decide the next steps – this was the view of the members of the Security Council – and when they were ready, the UN would take the initiative again. This sounds more like wishful thinking, than an expectation based on a rational evaluation of the prevailing conditions.

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