The United States took a beating in the Security Council on Tuesday in its goal to extend the arms embargo in the Iran nuclear deal, but the next day all 15 members of the United Nations’ elite body adopted a resolution calling for a global cease-fire during the pandemic to enable successful humanitarian responses.
The effort to approve the resolution took nearly 100 days of long lulls intersperced with roller-coaster talks, thanks to bickering between the US and China over certain language in the resolution. Meanwhile, the virus has not stopped, currently approaching 11 million cases worldwide.
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Monday, June 29
• The spokesperson’s briefing discussed, among other things, the role of UN peacekeeping and development operations in Covid-19 responses worldwide, such as:
• The mission in Lebanon (Unifil) is donating personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitary supplies and testing machines to the country and has established two triage centers with the Red Cross. (Lebanon has 1,788 confirmed cases of the virus so far and 34 deaths.) And in Timor-Leste, which has only 24 confirmed Covid-19 cases and no deaths yet, the UN has distributed up to $54 million in cash aid to 270,000 families. The UN donations to various countries come from its own stockpile or are bought in the global marketplace with money from peacekeeping budgets or the UN humanitarian fund created for the pandemic.
• Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt agreed to participate in an African Union-led process to resolve issues on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, Rosemary DiCarlo said in a Security Council briefing. DiCarlo, who runs the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said the UN was ready to support work on the matter, which is the first time it has been debated in Council, falling under the peace and security rubric. GERD is the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa, begun in 2011 on the Blue Nile river to prevent floods and boost hydropower in Ethiopia. It has long been disputed by Sudan and Egypt, both downstream of Ethiopia, who fear the dam will cause water shortages.
• The Security Council held a meeting on a UN cross-border aid mechanism that assists millions of people in northeast and northwest Syria. The mechanism expires July 10, and the US and most other Council members support its renewal, but veto-wielding Russia has tweeted the mechanism is “incompatible with international law.”
• Melissa Fleming, the head of the UN Global Communications, briefed the media to reiterate a new UN project, Verified, that attempts to stop the spread of “harmful misinformation on COVID-19” and to encourage reliance on accurate, science-based materials to help combat the virus. Verified is partly financed by a grant from the Ikea Foundation.
Tuesday, June 30
• The spokesperson’s briefing discussed, among other things, a G5 Sahel summit in Mauritania in which Secretary-General António Guterres said the pandemic was increasing violence in the region; and a UN-led pledging conference for the Covid-19 response plan for Syria raised $7.7 billion. Also:
• Guterres paid tribute (below) to 77 UN personnel who died in the line of duty from March 16 through Dec. 31, 2019. Of the 77, 38 were military personnel.
• The Security Council approved a mandate to extend the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) for another year. Despite a unanimous vote on the renewal, the US said it was concerned that Minusma is underperforming; it consists of more than 13,000 soldiers and 1,900 police officers.
• In a tense meeting in the Council debating the new US draft proposal to extend the arms embargo element in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, most members asserted that since the US left the deal in 2018, it no longer has a say in the agreement’s status. Although no decision was made on keeping the arms ban in place (it expires on Oct. 18), the debate is hardly over.
France summed up the European position, saying (and tweeting): “The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at the heart of our collective security. Our priority remains to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. The #JCPoA plays an essential role in this regard; France remains, with the E3, committed to its full implementation.” The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the formal name for the Iran deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration and endorsed in Security Council Resolution 2231 in 2015.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in the virtual meeting, was blunt, saying partly that if the Security Council lets the arms ban go, it will betray “the UN’s mission and its finest ideals, which we have all pledged to uphold.”
Russia, always eager to throw the US in stark relief, borrowed a phrase from the civil rights movement in the country, saying US sanctions on Iran are like “putting a knee to one’s neck.”
Germany, which remains a party to the Iran deal along with China, France and Russia, criticized Iran for its egregious human-rights record but then said: “It is very unfortunate that the United States left the JCPOA. By doing this, it actually violated international law because the JCPOA is enshrined in the binding Resolution 2231.”
Iran, which detailed the history of the deal in its remarks, said, “The international community in general — and UN Security Council in particular — face an important decision: Do we maintain respect for rule of law, or do we return to law of the jungle?”
Rosemary DiCarlo of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, added that the JCPOA is a “significant achievement of multilateral diplomacy and dialogue, which remains crucial to the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and to regional and international security.”
• Outside the Council, Kelly Craft, the US envoy to the UN, released a statement on China’s human-rights record, triggered by a public statement from 50 UN special rapporteurs expressing “alarm regarding the repression of fundamental freedoms in China.” Craft said that China’s human-rights record is “deplorable, and its efforts to disguise that record must be countered with more transparency, more discussion, and more truth, as the UN’s founders envisioned. . . . ” (The US withdrew from the Human Rights Council, which appoints the special rapporteurs, in 2018.)
Predictably, China shot back in a statement, saying: “The Chinese government always puts people first, promotes and protects human rights in the course of development, and follows a path of human rights development with Chinese characteristics.”
Wednesday, July 1
• The spokesperson’s briefing touched on Kazakhstan, where the UN provides legal assistance to 1,500 migrants; and praised Gabon for decriminalizing homosexuality.
• The long-awaited adoption of the Security Council resolution calling for a global cease-fire, inspired by Secretary-General Guterres’s plea on March 23, gave most members cause for rejoicing, yet China and the US produced bitter remarks after the unanimous vote. Over three months of negotiations led by France and Tunisia, the resolution underwent various mutations stemming from infighting between the US and China on language pertaining mostly to transparency and the World Health Organization. The final draft contains no mention of the latter.
The resolution has three priorities: a general, immediate cessation of hostilities worldwide; a humanitarian pause; and solidarity to face the pandemic.
Ambassador Zhang Jun of China said the “resolution has not come easily.” He added: “Some country has insisted on a unilateral stance, ignoring the call of the international community. The country went back on its words and broke its promise and the consensus, delaying the process of consultation again and again. The Council was thus hampered from taking action to support the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire and the Global Humanitarian Response Plan. . . .”
The US had this to say: “While the United States generally supports the resolution voted on today, we would like to note that it does not include crucial language to emphasize transparency and data-sharing as critical aspects in fighting this virus. We consistently expressed this concern throughout the consultation process on this resolution.”
• Germany assumed the monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council, below, as it also takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, emphasizing its commitment to strengthening the global rules-based order. The issues Germany will concentrate on in the Council include climate security and accountability for sexual violence in conflict.
• The UN is holding its first virtual counterterrorism summit July 6-10, subbing for the annual counterterrorism review, which was postponed because of the pandemic. The virtual event will focus on the challenges of counterterrorism operations in the pandemic. Guests include Josep Borrell, the European Union foreign affairs minister, and Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN’s counterterrorism office.
Thursday, July 2
• The spokesperson’s briefing touched on Myanmar, Libya, Yemen (where the Covid-19 death rate is 25 percent), Afghanistan, Kenya, Uganda and e-waste. Also:
• A lurid video involving staff members of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (Untso) is being investigated by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. So far, the UN said, “two male international staff members who were in the UN vehicle in Tel Aviv have been identified as having engaged in misconduct, including conduct of a sexual nature.” The two civilian staff members have been placed on administrative leave without pay, pending the conclusion of the investigation. [Update: The UN spokesperson, on July 6, said he did not know the staffers’ nationality but that they must remain under supervision of Untso in Tel Aviv pending the probe.]
• The Security Council held a virtual session on the pandemic’s effect on global security, led by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany.
• Guterres released a statement on developments in Ethiopia after the killing of a prominent artist, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, on June 29, extending his condolences to the family and welcoming “the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.”
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Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article.
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Allison Lecce is a graduate of Fordham University, with a degree in international studies and journalism. She received the Fordham College Alumni Association Journalism Scholars Award and is working for the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.