Syria; Iran; South Sudan; 2012 World Economic Situation and Prospects Report; and more

Syria: The United Nations has received a formal request from the Arab League to start training observers monitoring the crackdown in Syria, Arab media reported Tuesday, quoting UN sources. The training is to be conducted by staff from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, according to Dubai-based broadcaster Al Arabiya.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Security Council to take “serious” action against Syria, where he says casualties from a 10-month opposition uprising have reached “unacceptable” levels. Speaking Monday on a visit to Abu Dhabi, Mr. Ban appealed to the Council to act in a “coherent” manner in resolving the Syrian crisis.

Iran says senior U.N. nuclear officials will travel to the country later this month to discuss their concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tuesday that the U.N. delegation will visit Tehran from January 29 to 31 for talks on topics “of interest” to the agency. He says Tehran’s agreement to host the team led by IAEA deputy director-general Herman Nackaerts is a “sign of transparency” in Iran’s nuclear activities and engagement with the United Nations.

South Sudan:
Russia is likely to withdraw its military helicopters servicing the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan after voicing alarm at attacks on Russian personnel there, a Russian official said on Tuesday. Although Moscow has not made a final decision on its possible withdrawal, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the security situation for the 120 Russians aiding the U.N. peacekeepers “recently has not been satisfactory for us.” After its utility helicopters were attacked by South Sudanese security forces last autumn, Russia decided in December to withdraw four of them and is now contemplating the withdrawal of the other four.

Countries throughout the world will experience an economic slowdown this year as the sovereign debt crisis in Europe continues to unfold, according to a United Nations report launched today that also warns that governments must urgently address high unemployment rates, particularly among youth. The World Economic Situation and Prospects 2012 (WESP) report gives a detailed picture on seven geographical regions and forecasts that growth rates for the next two years will slow down in most of them, with the exception of the African continent, which will continue to enjoy growth due to stable commodity prices and foreign investment.

Industrial Development Report:
A new United Nations report launched today urges investment in energy-efficient technologies to help achieve sustainable growth and tackle a host of global challenges from climate change to poverty reduction. The Industrial Development Report, the flagship publication of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), states that industrial energy efficiency is key to sustainable development. The report is UNIDO’s main contribution to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year.

The UN’s World Food Programme today welcomed the appointment of Ertharin Cousin of the United States as the new head of the Rome-based agency. Ms. Cousin will replace Josette Sheeran, also a US national, whose term as WFP’s Executive Director expires in April.

The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš arrived in the capital, Kabul, today to take the helm of the world body’s presence there and assist the country amid a period of transition in what he said would be “a new period” in the Central Asian country’s development. Mr. Kubiš succeeds Staffan de Mistura, who headed UNAMA from March 2010 through December 2011.