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UNITED NATIONS: as he begins his second term as UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that the world is worse off in many ways than it was five years ago due to the pandemic of COVID-19, the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions that have sparked conflict everywhere – but unlike US President Joe Biden, he believes Russia will not invade Ukraine.
António Guterres said in an interview that the call for peace he made on his first day at the helm of the UN on January 1, 2017 and his priorities during his first term of trying to prevent conflict and tackling global inequality, the COVID-19 crisis and a warming planet has not changed.
“The UN secretary general has no power,” said António Guterres. “We can have influence. I can persuade. I can mediate, but I have no power.
Before becoming UN chief, Guterres said he envisioned the position as “a convener, a mediator, a bridge builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved.”
He said Thursday that these are things “I have to do every day.”
As an example, the secretary-general said this week that he had spoken with African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, twice with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and once with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. in its bid to secure a cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia between the government and forces in the beleaguered Tigray region.
“I hope we are in a situation where it might soon become possible to have a cessation of hostilities and that’s where I focus most of my efforts,” said António Guterres.
As another example, António Guterres said he also made phone calls to try to get Malian military leaders who recently postponed elections scheduled for next month to 2026 to reduce the timetable. He said he spoke to Mali’s military leader, President Assimi Goita, three presidents of the West African regional group of 15 ECOWAS countries, the Algerian prime minister and the head of the African Union on “how to ensure that in Mali there is an acceptable timetable for the transition to a civilian government.
António Guterres said he hoped Mali’s military leaders would understand they had to accept “a reasonable time” before the elections. The Secretary General believes that the vote should take place in “a relatively short period of time” and said: “All my efforts have been to create the conditions to bridge this gap and allow ECOWAS and the Government of Mali to find a solution with an acceptable deadline for the elections.
Guterres said the UN Security Council, which has the power to maintain international peace and security, including by imposing sanctions and ordering military action, is divided, especially its five permanent members with the right of veto. Russia and China are often at odds with the United States, Britain and France on key issues, including Thursday over new sanctions against North Korea.
On the question that currently concerns every country – whether Russia, which has massed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, will invade the former Soviet republic – Guterres said: “I don’t think Russia will invade Ukraine, and I hope my belief is correct. .”
What makes him think Moscow won’t invade when Biden and others think Russian President Vladimir Putin will send troops to Ukraine?
“Because I don’t believe in a military solution to the problems that exist, and I think the most rational way to solve these problems is through diplomacy and by engaging in serious dialogue,” said António Guterres, stressing that an invasion would have “terrible consequences”. consequences.”
The secretary-general said “we have been in contact, of course” with senior officials in Russia, although the UN is not directly engaged in the Ukraine crisis.
Guterres is due to deliver a speech to the 193 UN member nations in the General Assembly on Friday on his priorities for 2022.
He identified three immediate priorities that “concern me greatly”: the lack of vaccinations in large parts of the world, especially in Africa; the need to cut emissions by 45% in this decade to try to meet the international goal of trying to limit future global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit); and the “extremely unfair” financial situation in the world that favors rich countries.
Many developing countries have very few resources, high and growing debts and they pay much higher interest rates than in Europe or North America, have no vaccines and “suffer disproportionately from impacts of climate change,” Guterres said.
“We need a profound reform of our international financial system to ensure that there is more justice in the way resources are made available to enable (COVID-19) recovery to be possible everywhere” , did he declare.
On another major topic, António Guterres stressed that the Afghan people cannot be collectively punished for “the bad things that are being done by the Taliban”, so it is absolutely essential to massively increase humanitarian aid “because the Afghans are in dire straits with the risk of death from starvation and disease in a freezing winter with COVID-19.
“More than half of the population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid,” he said, and money needs to be pumped into the economy to keep Afghan banks running and doctors, teachers, etc. , engineers and other workers to prevent the economic collapse of the country.
The issue of recognizing the Taliban government is up to member states, Guterres said, but the UN lobbied the Taliban, which seized power in August as US-led NATO forces left. after 20 years, to guarantee human rights, especially women’s rights. girls’ rights to work and education, and to make the government more inclusive and representative of the diversity of the Afghan population.
The general secretary said he would attend the Beijing Olympics in February “which is not a political act” but “to be there when everyone comes together for good – for a message of peace”.