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Obituaries

Gunnar V. Jarring, 94; U.N. Diplomat for the Mideast

June 01, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gunnar V. Jarring, Sweden's former ambassador to Washington and the Soviet Union who served as a special United Nations envoy to seek peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967, has died. He was 94.

Jarring, dubbed the Silent Swede because of his talent for quiet diplomacy, died Wednesday of undisclosed causes at his home in Helsingborg, Sweden.

A career diplomat and linguist who spoke a dozen languages, Jarring was ambassador to the Soviet Union in November 1967 when U.N. Secretary-General U Thant appointed him as special U.N. representative to the Middle East.

Jarring's mission was to persuade Israel and the Arab countries to agree to peace negotiations in accordance with a U.N. Security Council resolution, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied during the six-day conflict.

It also asked for every country in the area to recognize the right of all Middle Eastern states to live within secure and guaranteed boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

"I hope to accomplish something within the framework of the resolution," Jarring said at the time. "It's impossible to say now what success I will have."

After four months--and 40 trips to the warring Arab and Israeli capitals--neither side's positions changed, causing Jarring to sever his direct contacts and leave the region.

His attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli deadlock, however, only added to his reputation as "a master of the art of quiet diplomacy," as Thant called him.

Once, when a reporter encountered Jarring during one of his shuttle trips between his headquarters in Cyprus and the Middle East capitals, he was asked if he was optimistic or pessimistic about an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

"No comment," Jarring replied.

When U.N. Undersecretary-General Ralph J. Bunche heard about the encounter, he reportedly said, "Jarring must have been misquoted. He would never say that much."

Although he alienated journalists with his public aloofness, Jarring was known as an ideal mediator and an adept practitioner of the art of diplomatic tightrope walking.

In negotiations, according to a 1970 analysis of Jarring's diplomatic style in the London Observer, "He is a careful listener, hardly ever interrupts and never makes a note; yet his reports of conversations are immaculately accurate.

"He is remarkably perceptive, quick at picking out nuances and always careful to study the moods of the people he is talking to, as well as the public mood of the countries he is visiting. It is here that his abilities as a linguist are such a formidable addition to his powers as a negotiator.

"He is, as Israeli and Arab diplomats who have worked with him agreed, a man who instinctively wins your trust."

The oldest child in a family of eight, Jarring was born in 1907 in a village in southern Sweden, where his parents ran a farm.

His real name was Jonsson, but because it is such a common name in Sweden, he changed it to Jarring (pronounced Yah-ring) while studying foreign languages at the University of Lund.

Jarring specialized in Turkish and when he was called up for military service after earning his master's degree, he was assigned to duty in Turkey as an attache. He later wrote a dissertation on East Turkestan phonetics that earned him a doctoral degree at the age of 25.

As an assistant professor of Turkish at the University of Lund from 1933 to 1940, he was afforded opportunities to travel in Asia and the Middle East.

In 1940, he joined Sweden's foreign service, subsequently serving in India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. He also headed the political section of the Swedish Foreign Ministry from 1953 to 1956.

In 1956, he became Swedish ambassador to the United Nations and the Security Council commissioned him to mediate the 9-year-old dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

In 1958, while continuing as the Swedish representative on the U.N. Security Council, Jarring was appointed ambassador to the United States, a post he held until 1964. He was ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1973 and served as special envoy to the U.N. secretary-general on the Middle East from 1967 to 1991.

He is survived by his daughter, Eva, who now lives in Australia; and four siblings.

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