02/23/2012 05:06 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

Syria U.N. Envoy Post: Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari Top Contenders For Position

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari are the leading contenders to become the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, a Western diplomat said on Thursday.

"There are two names at this point, Annan and Ahtisaari," the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

He added that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hoped to make an announcement about the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria as early as Friday.

More than 70 nations and international groups are due to meet on Friday in Tunis as the "Friends of Syria" to discuss the next steps in the conflict.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution last week asking Ban to appoint a special envoy to support the Arab League peace plan for Syria and condemning the violent crackdown mounted by President Bashar al-Assad.

Annan served as U.N. chief from 1997 to 2006, while Ahtisaari, Finland's president from 1994 to 2000, also served as a U.N. special envoy for Kosovo. Both men are Nobel Peace laureates.

Ban said on Tuesday the new envoy would initially have a humanitarian role but would also seek a political solution for the violence-torn country.. (Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Peter Cooney)