UN chief appoints personal envoy to Afghanistan
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced Wednesday he had appointed veteran French diplomat Jean Arnault to be his personal envoy to Afghanistan and the surrounding region, ahead of peace talks later this week in Moscow.
Arnault will work in concert with Canada's Deborah Lyons, who is the world body's special envoy to the war-wracked country and the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
The Frenchman, who recently worked as a special UN envoy to the Colombia peace process but who has experience in Afghanistan, has been asked to "assist in the achievement of a political solution to the conflict," a UN spokesman said.
His appointment "reflects the continued commitment by the United Nations to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan," said the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
The appointment came ahead of talks on Thursday in Moscow at Russia's invitation between high-level delegations of the Afghan government and the Taliban, along with representatives from the United States, Pakistan, and China.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has proposed a wider meeting after that in Turkey, to seal a comprehensive deal that could feature a "new, inclusive government," according to a letter leaked to Afghan media.
In addition, the United States has asked the United Nations to convene a meeting of foreign ministers from Afghanistan's neighbors on ensuring future stability that would notably include Iran.
Those talks come ahead of a May 1 deadline for the United States to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan -- a date set by the administration of former president Donald Trump that new President Joe Biden says will be "tough" to meet.
That deadline was part of the deal made with the Taliban that saw the insurgents agree to peace talks with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, but those talks, held in Qatar since September, have made little progress.
Washington wants to jumpstart the process and get the Taliban and Afghan government to agree to some form of power-sharing.
The UN spokesman said Arnault would "seek to advance the good neighborly relations" in the region "contributing to peace" in Afghanistan.