United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed veteran French diplomat Jean Arnault as his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues.
The appointment comes a day before Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, a delegation of top Afghan officials and opposition leaders, and Taliban negotiators meet in Moscow in an attempt to revive deadlocked peace talks.
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“The Secretary-General has asked Mr Arnault to assist in the achievement of a political solution to the conflict, working closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and regional partners,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Wednesday.
Dujarric said earlier on Wednesday the UN was not sending anyone to the talks in Moscow.
US special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to drum up support for a written proposal that includes an interim government and ceasefire.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said it will be “tough” for the US to withdraw forces from Afghanistan by May 1 under an agreement negotiated by his predecessor with the Taliban.
“I am in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave,” Biden told broadcaster ABC News in an interview aired on Wednesday.
The Moscow gathering will be followed by a meeting of regional players in the first week of April in Turkey and a summit that Khalilzad has asked the UN to organise, styled on a 2001 conference in the Germany city of Bonn.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has proposed a wider meeting in Turkey to seal a comprehensive deal that could feature a “new, inclusive government” in Afghanistan, according to a letter leaked to Afghan media.
France’s Arnault, who recently worked as a special UN envoy to the Colombia peace process, will work in concert with Canada’s Deborah Lyons, who heads the UNAMA and is also the world body’s special envoy to the war-wracked country.
“Our aim is to best support the people in Afghanistan in reaching peace and in ensuring that the gains that have been obtained … especially on the rights of women are not lost in any political discussion. But I don’t have any firm dates or meetings to announce for you as of yet,” Dujarric said.