Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, is said to be replacing B. Lynn Pascoe, the United Nations’ under secretary-general for political affairs, who has served for five years. The announcement has not been made formally by the UN, but it was reported in UN Forum, a Web site produced by Samir Sanbar, a former UN assistant secretary-general for public information.
A US State Department spokesman would not confirm or deny the assignment of Feltman to the UN Department of Political Affairs, which is tasked with preventing conflicts and promoting peace. The US mission to the UN did not respond to e-mail messages about Feltman.
Sanbar wrote in an April 15 post on UN Forum that the possible appointment of Feltman suggests “that the U.S. Administration will be taking U.N. work more seriously.”
“Designating someone with varied field experience, though controversial, and from a substantially senior post, may mean that more issues could be referred to the Security Council, whose Secretariat is handled” by the Department of Political Affairs, Sanbar added.
Feltman, who was born in 1959 in Ohio, has spent most of his career concentrating on Eastern European and Middle Eastern issues at the State Department. He has worked in the Near Eastern bureau since 2008; currently, he handles such countries as Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. The UN Department of Political Affairs has a special envoy in Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who helped broker the democratic transition there last fall and is still striving to ease the continuing tensions. Feltman traveled to Yemen in March to meet with government officials, youths, women activists and the media to encourage “broad participation” by Yemenis in the country’s future, the State Department said.
He also traveled to Qatar to discuss regional issues that included Syria. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan is leading a highly publicized diplomatic mission in Syria to instill a cease-fire between the government and rebels.
In addition, Feltman was the ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008 and previously ran the Coalition Provisional Authority’s office in Erbil, Iraq, a Kurdish region. In other earlier capacities, he was the US consulate general in Jerusalem; worked on peace process issues in Tel Aviv for the US government; and was posted to the US embassy in Tunisia after focusing on economic issues in Gaza. He has also held posts in Hungary and Haiti.
Feltman speaks Arabic, French and Hungarian. He has a bachelor’s degree in history and fine arts from Ball State University in Indiana and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Replacing Pascoe is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s reshuffling of top appointees in his second five-year term, which began in January. Pascoe, an American from Missouri, has led the UN Department of Political Affairs since March 2007. Like Feltman, he worked for the State Department, at the European and Eurasian Affairs bureau and was ambassador to Indonesia.
Pascoe is credited with raising the profile of the UN department in an understated but concerted way. His office operates 12 political missions in Central and West Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East and has strengthened its relationships with regional groups like the African Union. Its biennial budget is about $250 million, not including provisions for its special political missions, which have doubled in number in the last 10 years and were allotted up to $1 billion for 2012-2013, the highest amount of any UN entity.
Last year, the department dealt with the Libyan crisis by opening a mission in Tripoli, headed by Ian Martin, a human rights specialist; it also played a large role in Yemen’s efforts to sustain peace after its Arab Spring revolt. During Pascoe’s tenure, his office built up its preventive diplomacy and mediation tools, including enhancing a standby team of mediators, turning the department from paper shufflers to active advisers on such issues as constitution writing, elections and power-sharing.