Tuesday, January 3rd, was the first day in his office at the United Nations Headquarters for the new UN Secretary General António Guterres, and there was an air of excitement among the journalists as they gathered for the first press briefing of the New Year. When the spokesman of former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Stéphane Dujarric and who is staying on to serve as the spokesman for Guterres in a transitional role, took the podium to speak, the hot topics seemed to be the ceasefire and humanitarian actions in Aleppo, as well as the larger conflict in Syria and Iraq. However, the focus rapidly changed to relations between the US and the UN as Donald Trump transitions into power, and Guterres’ plans and priorities moving forward as the new Secretary General at the helm of the United Nations.
La Voce, in particular, was concerned about the comments made by President-Elect Trump on Twitter that said, “the United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to come together, talk and have a good time.” In a time of great change for both the United Nations and the United States, it is unclear if their futures will remain conjoined as the US Congress may be moving to defund the UN after President Obama allowed a resolution to pass the Security Council that condemned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. This move to defund could pose devastating consequences for the UN as the US accounts for more than one-fifth of the total United Nations funding. Responding carefully to La Voce’s question, Guterres’ spokesman abstained from criticizing Trump’s comments but rather said only that the Secretary General looks forward to collaborating with the new US administration in order to improve and reform the UN in any way possible and to allow it to reach the full “potential” that the President-Elect sees within it. (Watch video below starting minute 14:43)
Guterres, himself, in an address to UN staff, reiterated his New Year’s resolution to make 2017 a global year of peace. He called for teamwork and multilateralism among the UN member states in order to address the multitude of challenges facing the world, ranging from complex conflicts to global terrorism. He also appealed to the entire Organization to reform the systemic shortcomings that stand in the way of proper performance and development. In short, he called for the UN to try and rid itself of the “bureaucratic straight jacket” that hampers it. “There are no miracles […],” he said, “and the only way for us to achieve our goals is to work as a team.” Guterres was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995-2002, and served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015. He has succeeded Ban Ki-Moon to serve a five-year term as Secretary General ending on December 31st, 2021.
“Will António Guterres be the UN’s best ever Secretary General?” was the question posed by British newspaper The Guardian in a recent headline. The answer to that, of course, remains to be seen.
UPDATE: GUTERRES CALLS TRUMP
On the morning of January 4th, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres initiated a phone call with President-elect Donald Trump. UN Deputy spokesman Farhan Haq spoke positively of the conversation, saying that it went “quite well” and called it a “very positive discussion on US and UN relations.” However, Haq refused to give any details about the specifics of the call and described it as “introductory”. La Voce checked Trump’s Twitter account for mention of the conversation, but as we are reporting this, it was still noticeably absent.