Guterres takes helm at the UN calling for “year of peace”

Former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres has finally stepped into the shoes of outgoing UN secretary general Ban ki-Moon, calling for everyone – “citizens, governments and leaders” – to make 2017 a year of peace.

Considering the gargantuan task ahead of him, few journals have even tried to list the obstacles ahead – not least an incoming US president who thinks the UN is “just a club for people to have a good time” – though the UK’s Guardian suggests Guterres might just be the best ever candidate for “the world’s most demanding job”.

The reason has little to do with “the hurly burly of Portuguese politics” or the “harrowing years” as the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, but much more to insights gleaned from his first (now deceased) psychiatrist wife, Luísa Guimarães e Melo.

Melo taught him something which he told the paper has been “extremely useful” for all his political activities: “When two people are together, they are not two but six. What each one is, what each one thinks he or she is and what each one thinks the other is.”

What is true for people “is also true for countries and organisations”, he told the Guardian, explaining that “one of the roles of the secretary general when dealing with the different key actors in each scenario is to bring these six into two” so that misunderstandings and “false perceptions disappear”.

Meantime, USA today has highlighted what it calls “four things to know about the ninth leader” of the United Nations.

First, he wants more women in the UN, but second – and possibly a great deal more relevant – is that he wants to meet President-elect Donald Trump “as soon as possible”, considering the
“United States is not only the main donor of the UN but a fundamental element in its actions”.

“Meeting with Trump takes on added significance after the president-elect condemned the December 23 UN secretary council resolution criticising Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians, adds the media channel – stressing that Guterres has already met with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Syria’s civil war, describing it as an ‘excellent working meeting’.

His audience with Trump will have to contend with the latter’s “skepticism” of many UN-brokered achievements, including a landmark deal to combat global warming, says the paper, failing to note that Trump did actually say in his controversial tweet about the UN being a club that the organisation “has such great potential”.

Indeed, Trump said it was “so sad” that the UN was not reaching its potential, so perhaps the two men – given Guterres’ political insight – will find common ground.

The other two ‘things to know’ about the man pushing for world peace are that he “may refocus efforts on refugee programmes” and want to concentrate on a “culture of prevention”, instead of the UN being seen as an organisation that steps in only after crises have taken hold.

As the paper puts it starkly, Guterres is inheriting “a big mess”. He thus needs all the messages of support and approval from world leaders that he can get.

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