Antonio Guterres’s spokesman says U.N. staff does not represent any government or country.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday defended his choice of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad to be the U.N. peace envoy to Libya after the United States blocked the appointment.
The decision to put forward his candidacy “was solely based on Mr. Fayyad’s recognized personal qualities and his competence for that position,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “United Nations staff serve strictly in their personal capacity. They do not represent any government or country.”
Guterres had informed the Security Council on Wednesday of his intention to appoint Fayyad and set a deadline of Friday for members to raise objections.
Diplomats said Fayyad’s name had been floated for a while and that U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley did not raise any opposition during those consultations. Haley said in a statement on Friday that the United States did not “support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations,” where the state of Palestine does not have full membership. “For too long, the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” she said.
The Palestinians were upgraded to non-member observer status at the United Nations in 2012.
Dujarric said no Israeli and no Palestinian had served in a high-level post at the United Nations, and that “this is a situation that the secretary-general feels should be corrected,” based on personal merit and competencies of the candidates.
The U.N. chief seeks the unanimous backing of all 15 council members for appointments of his special representatives to conflict areas. France and Sweden came out in full support of Guterres, praising his choice of Fayyad, a former World Bank official with a track record of fighting corruption.
The U.S. decision to block the appointment surprised Guterres, whose choice of Fayyad was his first appointment of an envoy to a conflict area since he took over from Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 1. “Based on the information available to him at the time, the secretary-general had the perception, now proven wrong, that the proposal would be acceptable to Security Council members,” Dujarric told AFP.
Fayyad, 64, was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013, and also served as finance minister. He had been tapped to replace Martin Kobler of Germany, who has been the Libya envoy since November 2015.
Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the U.S. decision as “blatant discrimination.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and Haley have criticized the United Nations for adopting a resolution in December that demanded an end to Israeli settlement building. “Going forward, the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies,” Haley said.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre praised Fayyad as a public figure with “great qualities who is unanimously well-regarded for his experience and expertise” and said France has “full confidence” in the U.N. chief’s personnel appointments. Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, whose country has recognized Palestine, said it was the secretary-general’s “prerogative to independently select and appoint his representatives,” adding that Fayyad would be an “excellent” envoy on Libya.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon applauded the American decision, describing it as “the beginning of a new era where the U.S. stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish state.”
The council will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, the same day that Trump is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.