Guterres vows U.N. reform and diplomatic 'surge'

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he is determined to reform the world body and to see a diplomatic “surge” to overcome obstacles in peace talks.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to journalists during a breakfast briefing at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

Guterres said the United Nations was irreplaceable and its actions had reduced suffering. “But I’m also aware of the shortcomings and the failures of the U.N.,” he told reporters.

“That’s why I’m totally committed first of all to a surge in diplomacy for peace, to make the U.N. more effective in trying to address the dramatic multiplication of conflicts that we are witnessing and to put full priority on the prevention of those conflicts.”

Under Guterres’ predecessor Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. tried and has so far failed to make peace between warring sides in Syria, Yemen and Libya, while wars in Ukraine, South Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere have continued unabated.

An early test for Guterres will be U.N.-led talks to reunify Cyprus, a decades-old conflict that has pushed Greece and Turkey to the brink of war in the past.

Officials from both sides of the divided island, as well as Greece, Turkey and Britain, opened a round of technical talks at a secluded Swiss resort on Wednesday to try to pave the way for a potential deal at talks in Geneva later this month.

In the previous round of Cyprus talks, U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide said Guterres had been very active and involved almost daily in negotiations.

“It will send a very strong signal to a conflicted world and a region in which we see many wars and many things breaking apart, if we could find one place where things just came together,” Eide said.

Eide cited U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is planning a new round of Syria peace talks in February, as saying that a sign of progress on Cyprus could help other peace processes around the world.

Guterres said he also wanted to simplify and decentralize U.N. management and make it more effective, accountable and flexible.

He also pledged to “engage constructively” with the new U.S. administration, and cited Donald Trump’s view that there was a lot of potential in the United Nations.

“That is exactly what I think, and we need to work to reform the U.N. in order to make sure that potential is fully met,” Guterres said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Dominic Evans