New UN chief Guterres urges US-Russia reconciliation

Secretary General-designate Antonio Guterres of Portugal (L) is greeted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S. October 13, 2016. © Brendan McDermid
The UN’s newly-appointed secretary-general has urged reconciliation between the US and Russia, saying he will do “everything he can” to encourage trust between the two nations. Tensions have recently mounted over the Syrian crisis.

Antonio Guterres said he will “be delighted to do everything I can to support confidence and trust to be increased among states in general, and of course obviously the United States and Russia are two absolutely central countries in today's world.”

The new UN head was speaking one day after his candidacy was approved by the UN General Assembly.

Guterres said that he doesn't see his role as being the “leader of the world,” and that he intends to facilitate reconciliation between Washington and Moscow.

“I will always strongly encourage these two countries to come together, because I am absolutely sure if these two countries come together, they will have an enormous capacity to mobilize others to make sure the contradictions we are still facing can be overcome,” he said.

Earlier this month, the US froze cooperation with Russia over Syria. The White House slammed Moscow's decision to pursue what it called a “military course” in the war-torn country, once again accusing it of targeting “critical infrastructure such as hospitals.”

In return, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the US of continuously switching stances on Syria, and “trying to shift the blame” after failing to honor its own agreements. Moscow has time and again criticized Washington for failing to distinguish between so-called moderate rebels and terror groups in Syria.

The two sides agreed on Wednesday to resume talks during a two-day gathering on Syria in Lausanne, Switzerland, over the weekend. Regional stakeholders including Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also expected to take part in the negotiations.

“I was very happy to notice that the negotiations about Syria are starting again,” Guterres said.

However, the 67-year-old admitted that he doesn't yet have a plan to settle the Syrian crisis, noting that he is “not yet secretary-general.”

“...The key question here is to bring together those that have a central role in that conflict, either because they are parties of the conflict or because they have influence on the parties of the conflict,” he said.

“What I will try to do is everything I can to make all countries involved understand that this is a war in which everybody is losing,” he continued, stressing that the Syrian crisis poses a threat to the region, as well as the spread of global terrorism.

Guterres, who served as Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 to 2002 and the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years, will succeed current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he steps down on December 31. He will hold the post for five years.