UN chief cites new world dangers as he pushes for peace

The world’s top diplomat was undiplomatic in warning United Nations countries they are failing to end conflicts, cooperate for peace, and generally acting badly.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a rare news conference Tuesday, was blunt in his global perspective. Guterres said he is “sounding an alarm about protracted conflicts and the spread of terrorism.”

He told reporters, “We face a Gordian knot in the Middle East and potential nuclear catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula.”

The former Portugese Prime Minister had a long list of laments. He said, “Climate change is moving faster than we are. Inequality and nationalism are on the rise, while trust and solidarity are on the decline.”

Guterres said the world needs “bold leadership, less hatred and more dialogue and deeper international cooperation.”

Guterres had already issued what he called a “red alert” to the world at the start of the year. At the UN news conference, he added that, “We must recognize the many ways in which the international community is failing and falling short.”

Guterres revealed directly to UN countries his criticism before the news conference. At a briefing for the 193 UN member countries, Guterres noted he took office a year ago calling for 2017 to be a year of peace. “One year later, we must recognize that peace remains elusive. In fundamental ways the world has gone in reverse. Conflicts have deepened and new dangers have emerged.”

Guterres confirmed he will go to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, a sporting occasion that some still believe is an event that helps bring countries together. North Korea is planning to send a delegation. Guterres said, “I hope the Olympic spirit of friendship among nations will spread across the region and beyond.”

However, Guterres, while praising the renewed dialogue between North and South Korea, said it’s a good symbol but the world should not forget the big problem is not resolved.

“It is very important that we have these conversations between these two Koreas. It’s very important that we have these Olympic Games, but let’s not forget that the central problem is yet to be solved and let’s make sure that the international community commits strongly to that.”

The UN leader expressed openness to personally getting involved in a Korean dialogue but would need to be asked to participate. He said, “I believe war is avoidable,” but he worries that peace is not guaranteed.

Guterres expressed concern about the US plan to withhold $65 million for the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee assistance agency, which was announced an hour after Guterres’ news conference.

“In UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) I am very concerned. And I strongly hope that in the end that it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA, in which the US has a very important share,” he said.

Guterres has had to walk a tightrope in dealing with the Trump administration, which wants a leaner, more productive UN that also costs less for American taxpayers. The United States is by far the largest financial contributor to the UN budget and peacekeeping budget.

Guterres declined to comment on President Trump’s reported “s-hole” insult to describe countries in Africa and elsewhere and their potential immigrants to the United States.

He noted Trump has denied making the remark. Guterres stressed the need to respect migrants around the world.

Reflecting on what is facing the United Nations and himself, Guterres told the UN members Tuesday morning, “We need greater unity and courage, unity and courage to meet today’s most urgent needs, to ease the fears of the people we serve and set the world on track towards a better future.”