U.S. expresses objection to Palestinian as U.N. envoy to Libya

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has objected to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ choice of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad as the body’s new representative to Libya.

File Photo: Salam Fayyad attends an opening reception of Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Delevopment (CEAPAD) in Tokyo February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

It was unclear whether the objection, expressed in a statement late on Friday by Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Haley, had ended Fayyad’s candidacy.

The U.S. objection drew Palestinian condemnation.

Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday that the proposal to nominate Fayyad “was solely based on Mr. Fayyad’s recognized personal qualities and his competence for that position”.

The United States wields significant influence as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States was disappointed to see a letter indicating the intention to appoint the former Palestinian Authority prime minister to lead the UN Mission in Libya,” Haley said in her statement.

“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” she said.

Haley added that the United States “does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nation.”

The U.S. ambassador said Washington encouraged Israel and the Palestinians “to come together directly on a solution” to end their conflict.

Dujarric said in response that “United Nations staff serve strictly in their personal capacity. They do not represent any government or country.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his pledge to recruit qualified individuals, respecting regional diversity, and notes that, among others no Israeli and no Palestinian have served in a post of high responsibility at the United Nations.

“This is a situation that the Secretary-General feels should be corrected, always based on personal merit and competencies of potential candidates for specific posts.”

Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the U.S. objection as “unconscionable”.

“We hope that saner voices will prevail and that the U.S. will take back this irrational and discriminatory decision immediately and not deprive the U.N. of such a highly qualified individual,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Fayyad, a Texas-educated former International Monetary Fund official, was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013. He had earned praise in the international community for his efforts to crack down on corruption and to build effective Palestinian public institutions.

Guterres selected Fayyad to take over as Libya envoy from Martin Kobler, a German diplomat who has served as the U.N. representative since November 2015.

Reporting by Ned Parker Editing by Jeremy Gaunt