Turtle Bay

Exclusive: Ban Ki-moon to appoint former Jordanian foreign minister as special envoy for Libya

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to name one of two former Jordanian foreign ministers, either Abdul-llah Khatib or Marwan Muasher, early next week as his special envoy to Libya, marking an escalation in the U.N.’s effort to address a potential humanitarian crisis in Libya and to prepare the groundwork for a transition of ...

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to name one of two former Jordanian foreign ministers, either Abdul-llah Khatib or Marwan Muasher, early next week as his special envoy to Libya, marking an escalation in the U.N.’s effort to address a potential humanitarian crisis in Libya and to prepare the groundwork for a transition of power, U.N.-based diplomatic sources told Turtle Bay.*[see note at bottom]

Khatib is expected to organize a team of experts who will initially help coordinate the humanitarian response to Moammar Qaddafi‘s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has led to the flight of tens of thousands of foreign nationals. But the mission will also take on a political role, seeking to build consensus among the various Libyan tribal factions and opposition groups, and helping to facilitate a political transition.

The move clearly shows the convergence of U.S. and U.N. efforts to help bring about an end of Qaddafi’s 41-year rule in Libya. It appears unlikely that Ban will seek to promote mediation efforts between Qaddafi’s government and anti-government rebels. Ban and the United States have questioned Qaddafi’s right to rule. "In Libya, a regime that has lost legitimacy has declared war on its own people," Ban said last week during a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. "It is up to us, the community of nations, to stand against this crime."

The U.N. chief had also approached Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. trouble-shooter, and Kamal Dervis, a Turkish economist who previously headed the U.N. Development Program. But both men turned the job down.  Ban has been in discussions with both Khatib and Muasher. U.N-based diplomats were divided over which candidate prevailed. But two council diplomats said they believed Muasher was the front runner.

A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, declined to confirm or deny the pending appointment of Al-Khatib, saying a final decision has not been made. "As you might imagine, we can’t comment officially on any of that, just to say that the search is ongoing and that we expect to make an announcement soon," Haq told Turtle Bay.

Ban discussed his plan to appoint a special representative in a White House meeting last week with President Barack Obama. After the meeting, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, confirmed that Ban had informed Obama he would appoint a "senior-level person to coordinate the United Nations humanitarian and political efforts with respect to Libya.  That was something that we had encouraged and welcomed. And so there was a real effort discussed and agreed that would help to coordinate and consolidate both the humanitarian response, particularly with respect to Libya, and the political efforts to help support the democratic transformations that we hope are underway in various parts of the region."

"The U.N. has played a positive and very important role in efforts to end the bloodshed there and to hold the Qaddafi regime accountable, and support the Libyan people," she added. "Indeed, in Libya, the United Nations is demonstrating the indispensable role that it can play in advancing our interests and defending our values."

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly two days later, Ban said that the announcement was imminent. "Within the week, I am planning to appoint a Special Envoy, who will work closely with regional governments and the international community to coordinate our rapid and effective response," Ban said. "The transition to a new democratic system of governance should start now."

Ban outlined his decision to appoint a new envoy in a conference call with heads of U.N. agencies, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, saying it is "necessary to prepare for a further possible escalation of humanitarian needs should conditions deteriorate inside Libya." At the same time, he assured them the "political change must be locally owned and locally led." But there was at least one sign that some regional powers may have misgivings about the U.N. effort to prod Qaddafi from power. The African Union, which has grown uneasy about the prospects of outside efforts to promote regime change in Libya, did not participate in the meeting. U.N. officials said the AU’s leader were traveling at the time of the meeting, but that they supported Ban’s efforts.

*[An earlier version of this story said that Ban Ki-moon was set to appoint Khatib as his special envoy.  But diplomats said that two former Jordanian foreign minister, including Marwan Muasher, were under consideration for the job.]

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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