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A Possible Replacement for UN Political Affairs Chief


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.

Jeffrey Feltman could be the next head of the UN Department of Political Affairs.

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.

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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.

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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.

Additional resources

In Tiny Guinea-Bissau, Ruthless Politics and Cool Refrain

Annan Assembles a Veteran Team for Syria

Jan Eliasson Named Deputy Secretary-General

Ban’s Latest High-Level Appointments

Shaping a Tentative Peace in Yemen

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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