The latest round of Russian and U.S. diplomacy has yet to prove it can end a civil war in Syria that has already exacted well over 70,000 lives and threatened to engulf the region. But it has been enough to convince Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria, to put his retirement plans on hold and serve as the diplomatic ringleader for the high-stakes negotiations.
The political conference -- which is designed to bring together Syrian officials, opposition leaders, and big-power foreign ministers -- is expected to begin in Geneva, Switzerland, around June 15 and last two to three days, though the final date has not been set in stone, according to diplomats involved in the preparation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has committed to open the event with a speech, but he will turn over the work of mediation to Brahimi, a veteran diplomatic trouble shooter who has negotiated peace deals in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brahimi has confided to diplomats that he envisions the conference as a truncated version of the 2001 Bonn conference, where the former Algerian diplomat helped forge a transitional Afghan government headed by Hamid Karzai to fill a political vacuum created by the U.S.-led military overthrow of the Taliban. The meeting will start large, with speeches by senior international dignitaries, and then shift into more intimate talks involving the warring parties.
Brahimi's goal is to gain support for the implementation of the June 2012 Geneva action plan, which outlined a roadmap for a political transition to a provisional government with full executive powers in Damascus. The Geneva pact -- which was backed by Russia and the United States -- represents the most important big-power agreement on a plan to resolve the conflict. But the deal has foundered in the face of a split over the wisdom of threatening further sanctions against the Syrian government to compel its compliance with the terms, as well as differences over the role of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's future.
There are several crucial matters that remain unresolved on the eve of talks, including the composition of the Syrian and opposition delegation, and the question of whether they will talk directly or communicate through Brahimi. The role of the United States and Russia, the key sponsors of the conference, and other major powers like Britain, China, France, and Turkey remains undecided. Some of the most controversial regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, which is arming the opposition, and Iran, which is arming the Syrian government, will not likely be invited.
So far, the Syrian government has proposed some five to six names of government representatives, including Prime Minister Wael al-Halki, Information Minister Omran Zoabi, and Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar. But the opposition has yet to select their own representatives or approve the Syrian government list.
Selecting an agreed slate has been complicated by the need to identify individuals who have sufficient authority over the Syrian combatants to compel them to accept a potential political deal, but who are not associated with human rights abuses.
The diplomacy is unfolding against a backdrop of deepening violence, not only in Syria, but in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, where fighting broke out on May 19 between residents of Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods in the town of Tripoli.
The pro-Syrian militia, Hezbollah, has sent fighters to aid Assad's forces in its battle for the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East told the Security Council today. "The past month has seen repeated incidents of shelling from Syria into Lebanese territory that has caused casualties."
Serry also said that the U.N. secretary general "remains gravely concerned about the allegations of the use of chemical weapons." Citing "mounting reports on the use of chemical weapons" he urged the Syrian government to allow a U.N. team into the country to examine the allegations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, met in Amman, Jordan, today with the pro-opposition diplomatic coalition called the "Friends of Syria" -- a group that includes representatives of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Kerry said they would discuss how to help the opposition fashion a slate of representatives for the Geneva talks that constitute the "broadest base possible in Syria."
"We will discuss the framework, the structure of what we think Geneva ought to be. And obviously, that will have to be discussed with the Russians, with the United Nations, and with others in order to find the formula that moves us forward most effectively," Kerry said before the meeting. "We will listen to all voices with respect to the format, to the timing, to the agenda, and to the outcomes that should be discussed."
In the meantime, the U.S. and European powers sought to increase pressure on Syria to show flexibility in Geneva. On Monday, the European Union is expected to meet on Monday to decide whether to lift or ease an arms embargo that has limited the opposition's ability to purchase weapons. Kerry, meanwhile, warned that the United States may be prepared to provide military support to the opposition. "In the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate ... in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country."
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Courtesty of the United Nations: Jean-Marc Ferre
For a rare afternoon at U.N. headquarters, the U.S. and Iranian governments took a break from bashing one another. Instead, they were getting ready to go to the mat.
The U.N. cafeteria provided the stage for a bout of international sports diplomacy, as American, Iranian, and Russian wrestlers gathered for lunch as well as an opportunity to rally behind a common cause: appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to keep wrestling in the Olympics.
Today's U.N. event -- sponsored by USA wrestling, FILA, and the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, and hosted by the U.N. Correspondent's Association -- comes one day before the Rumble on the Rails at Grand Central Station, a wrestling contest that will match up the world's best Greco Roman wrestlers from Iran, the world's top wrestling team, with the United States and Russia, two other national powerhouses.
It provided a forum for scripted diplomatic pronouncements about the importance of preserving the sport from senior Iranian and Russian diplomats, who recalled wrestling's long, revered place in their country's history. State Department officials were present at the event, but the U.S. government played a low-key role, absent from the list of speakers. Instead, a group of American wrestling advocates, including the actor Billy Baldwin, a former wrestler himself, took the podium to speak up for the sport on America's behalf.
Not surprisingly it wasn't Baldwin, but a young Olympian that best captured the spirit of the event, arguing that Greco Roman wrestling had something to teach international diplomats and politicians.
"We can get together, me and the Iranians and the Russians, and we can go out on the mat and physically do everything possible to beat the crap out of one another," explained Jake Herbert, 28, an American silver medalist in the 2012 Olympics. "No one is going to get killed; no one is going to get injured; you're going to leave it out on the mat and then be friends. We're united -- Iran, Russia, and the USA -- all through sports, something they have never been able to do through politics before and something they should be able to look at and learn."
In fact, the event provided a rare respite from the diplomatic clashes over a range of issues -- from Iran's nuclear ambitions to the international response to the Syria crisis -- that more typically define U.S. relations with Tehran. On Monday, Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, sounded off on Iran's upcoming assumption, through rotation, of the presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CD), calling it "unfortunate and highly inappropriate."
"The United States continues to believe that countries that are under Chapter VII sanctions for weapons proliferation or massive human-rights abuses should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in U.N. bodies," she said. "While the presidency of the CD is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities, allowing Iran -- a country that is in flagrant violation of its obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and to the IAEA Board of Governors -- to hold such a position runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself. As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran."
Despite the administration's diplomatic campaign to isolate Iran, the United States has largely embraced the effort to improve relations with Iran through wrestling. American wrestlers have competed against the Iranians 11 times since 1998, when USA Wrestling sponsored its first match in Iran in decades -- a 1998 competition at the Iranian Takhti Club in Tehran. In February of this year, the U.S. wrestling team competed in Tehran.
Just days before, on Feb. 12, the International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that wrestling no long be considered a core sport at the Olympics. A final decision will be made in September.
Mike Novogratz, an investor who helped organize the Grand Central wrestling matches through his organization Beat the Streets Wrestling, said it was an "absurd decision" by the IOC board to propose remove wrestling from the Olympics in 2020, describing it was one of the most popular sports in the Muslim world.
Wrestling advocates, he said, are seeking to use the New York event, as well as an upcoming match in Los Angeles, to raise international awareness about the sport and convince the IOC to reverse its decision. As a fall back, he said, wrestling organizers, have been considering asking the Olympic governing body to readmit wrestling as a new sport. In order to do that, they are considering improving the sports marketing component and implementing some changes in the rules to make it more accessible to younger audiences who have had trouble understanding the sport's sometime arcane rules.
It wouldn't hurt to see the Obama administration embracing the sport of wrestling with the same passion as Russian President Vladimir Putin and outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Dan Gable, a 1972 Olympic gold medal winner who, as a coach, led the University of Iowa to 16 NCCA championships. "I really feel both in Russia and Iran wrestling comes right out of their government offices," he said. "Our president, Obama, he's not involved as much."
He said Obama had good reason to take an interest, noting that another American president from Illinois had a keen interest in the sport, one that he hoped Obama might be compelled to emulate. "Lincoln was a wrestler; he held matches on the White House lawn."
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U.S. and European oil and financial sanctions are imposing hardships on the Iranian public, driving up the cost of living, causing shortages of medicine and meat, and fueling popular resentment against the West, Iran’s top economic official told reporters today.
But the official, Iran’s Minister of Economy and Finance Seyed Shamseddin Hoseini, told reporters at the Iranian mission to the United Nations today the long-term impact of the sanctions would be to make Iran’s economy more self-reliant, and that Tehran would never bow to U.S. and European pressure to halt its nuclear program.
Addressing Western reporters at a breakfast of fruit, fried eggs, walnuts, and croissants, Hoseini said that U.S.-backed sanctions targeting the Iranian Central Bank have made it impossible to transfer funds to companies selling even the most basic goods to Iran. For instance, he said, foreign farmers seeking to export beef to Iran have been unable to secure money transfers to conclude the sale.
“So, as a result, our people are consuming a little bit less meat,” he said. “If you were in the shoes of the average Iranian how would you judge the current situation? What, there is no [difference] between a nuclear installation and beef?”
U.S. and European diplomats say that while international sanctions are designed to impede the government’s ability to develop nuclear weapons they acknowledge that some of the measures imposed on Iran’s oil and financial sector may inadvertently harm ordinary citizens.
But they say that they have exempted basic foods and humanitarian goods, including medicines, from a list of sanctioned goods. Tehran, they contend, bears the greatest responsibility for the plight of the Iranian people because it has repeatedly failed to abide by multiple Security Council resolutions demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment program.
Iran maintains that it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon, and that the program is for peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity. It has argued that the West’s exemption on the import of medicines and humanitarian goods is meaningless given the refusal of international suppliers to transfer funds to Iranian banks and business out of fear they may be violating U.S. or European financial sanctions.
Hoseini claimed that the true objective of Washington and other European powers was not simply to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, but to prevent it from competing with them in the wider sciences, including aerospace industries, nanotechnology, and the nuclear sciences.
“We believe that the nuclear issue is not the central reason behind these sanctions; this is only a cover,” he said. “These are forbidden frontiers for us to cross into.” Only the big powers and their friends, he added, have “permission to cross that threshold.”
Iran “will continue our scientific progress and programs,” Hoseini said. In the meantime, the Iranian government is exploring ways to endure the sanctions, including providing rations to Iranian citizens and trying to cultivate new trade partners beyond. “Realism forces you to find new ways to get creative,” he said.
“We were continuing on a path and they created obstacles on our path,” he said. But “we will never stop behind the obstacles they put in our path.”
Despite the challenges, Hoseini said that Iran is coping.
“Don’t think for a moment now … there are no pharmaceuticals or medicines in Iran. Do not think that hospitals are unable to perform their daily health care operations or perform needed surgeries.”
Asked to comment on reports that the sanctions were crippling Iranians, doubling the price of basic staples like meat in the past month, he acknowledged that prices of “foodstuffs have increased across the board.” But, he added, “Of course, I don’t know which butcher shop you use in Iran because I have not heard prices of meat having doubled during the past month. They must have given you a raw deal.”
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This, I think, needs repeating.
When it comes to Syria, the United Nations is stuck.
You could almost be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the extraordinary number of meetings, investigations, and resolutions currently devoted to resolving a crisis that has left more than 70,000 dead and raised the specter of chemical warfare.
On March 21, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced plans to send a U.N. team to Syria to investigate claims of chemical weapons use. I haven't spoken to a single diplomat or U.N. official who believes the team will ever be let into the country.
In the U.N. General Assembly, Qatar is asking governments to support a resolution that would bolster the Syrian rebels' international legitimacy. A final-watered down version may ultimately be passed, but like previous UNGA resolutions on Syria, its impact will be largely symbolic -- another stern demonstration of Syria's diplomatic isolation.
Lakdhar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on April 19, regarding his latest efforts to persuade the warring factions to agree to a political transition. Prospects for a peaceful transition have never looked bleaker.
There's a long history of diplomatic standstills generating a flurry of diplomatic action leading nowhere. In Darfur, Sudan, the U.N. Security Council once authorized a U.N. peacekeeping mission even though it was clear Khartoum would not let it into the country. In Bosnia, the council created U.N. safe havens that it couldn't be defend.
Syria is no different.
"The UN has been entirely cut out ... and I think there is no reason to believe any of these current activities is going to make the slightest difference on the ground," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. "What you see at the U.N. are diplomats creating noise to conceal the fact that they are not making progress."
It's unfair to write the U.N. off entirely.
The U.N. has been at the forefront of international efforts to raise concern about human rights abuses in Syria, while organizing the world's humanitarian response and collecting a catalogue of evidence of war crimes that could ultimately be used to hold some of Syria's worst human rights violators accountable for their crimes. And Ban has been outspoken in scolding the perpetrators of violence and pushing major powers to step up to the plate.
"On Syria, this is a most troubling situation where all the leaders of the world should really take a much more strengthened leadership role," Ban said after a meeting in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama. "I have asked President Obama to demonstrate and exercise his stronger leadership in working with key partners of the Security Council."
But the council -- the only U.N. institution that has real clout -- has been paralyzed by a big power dispute between China and Russia on one side, and the United States, Europe, and Arab governments on the other. The dispute poisons virtually every discussion.
The chemical weapons investigation is a case in point.
Last month, the Syrian government asked the U.N. secretary general to investigate its claim that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in a March 19 attack that killed 26 people, including 16 Syrian soldiers. Russia quickly rallied to Syria's defense, urging Ban to carry out the investigation as swiftly as possible.
But Britain and France, citing opposition claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, subsequently urged Ban to expand the investigation to include alleged incidents in Homs and Damascus. Ban agreed to look at all cases.
Syria, meanwhile, balked, insisting that U.N. could only investigate the single case in Aleppo. Russia has largely backed Syria's position, and made it clear that it would not allow the council to be used to pressure Syria to consent.
There has been no independent confirmation that chemical weapons were used, nor has there been confirmation that such munitions were used in some other recent cases, as alleged by the opposition. But Britain and France have presented the United Nations with information indicating numerous possible incidents of chemical weapons use.
Lacking Security Council support, Ban this week sought to coax Damascus into granting visas by announcing that the inspection team had already traveled to Cyprus, and was ready to go to Syria within 24 hours. "They are now ready to go," Ban reiterated following his meeting with Obama.
But U.N. officials and diplomats say privately that Syria, which has already refused Ban's terms for the probe, is unlikely to let the team in. "We're at an impasse," said one council diplomat.. "It doesn't look good."
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The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly this morning to create the first international treaty regulating the global arms trade, a landmark decision that imposes new constraints on the sale of conventional arms to governments and armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide, and other mass atrocities.
The U.N. vote was hailed by arms control advocates and scores of governments, including the United States, as a major step in the international effort to enforce basic controls on the $70 billion international arms trade. But it was denounced by Iran, North Korea, and Syria, for imposing new restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling arms to ensure their self-defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the General Assembly for approving "a strong, effective and implementable arms trade treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade."
Kerry said that the treaty "applies only to international trade and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory. As the U.S. has required from the outset of these negotiations, nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."
Kerry said the treaty would establish "a common national standard" -- similar to that already in place in the United States -- for regulating global trade in conventional arms. It would also reduce the risk that arms sales would be used to "carry out the world's worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes."
The 193 member assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including major arms traders like China, India, and Russia, as well as countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, that have been supplying weapons to armed opposition groups in Syria, The treaty, which will open for signatures on June 3, will go into force 90 days after it is ratified by 50 states.
The vote came four days after Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- three governments who would likely be targeted by the new measures -- blocked the adoption of the treaty by consensus, arguing that it failed to bar sales to armed groups or foreign occupiers, and that it would strengthen the ability of big powers to restrict small states' ability to buy weapons.
But the vote revealed broader misgivings about the treaty by dozens of countries -- including Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan -- that the treaty would grant an unfair advantage to the world's largest arms exporters. India's chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, explained her government's decision to abstain, saying today that the treaty "is weak on terrorism and non-state actors." She previously objected that the "weight of obligations is tilted against importing states."
The United States, which co-sponsored the treaty, said that several U.S. agencies will conduct a review of the treaty before it is presented to President Barack Obama for signature. The treaty would also require ratification by the United States Senate.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) -- which has contended the treaty would weaken Second Amendment gun rights in the United States -- has pledged to fight the treaty's ratification in the Senate.
But U.S. officials and several non-governmental organizations, including the American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, have challenged the NRA's position, saying the treaty would have no impact on Americans' gun rights. The treaty language recognizes the "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities."
Iran, meanwhile, protested last week that the treaty had provided specific protections for U.S. gun owners, while failing to provide protections for people living under foreign occupation.
Under the treaty, states are banned from transferring arms to countries, including Iran and North Korea, that are subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or to countries believed to be preparing to use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
The treaty would require governments to establish a national record-keeping system that would allow them to track the trade in conventional arms, and to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. It would also require that governments conduct a risk assessment to determine the likelihood that arms exports are being used to violate or abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.
The arms treaty would apply to several categories of conventional arms, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. The treaty includes exemptions that would allow the consideration of defense cooperation agreements between governments and allow states to transfer weapons across international borders, so long as the weapons remain under that state's control.
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Listening to North Korea's response to the latest round of U.N. sanctions, one might be forgiven for thinking that there is no U.N. Security Council, or China, for that matter.
It was America that did this to us.
In advance of Thursday's decision by the 15-nation council to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang, the North Korean leadership threatened to go nuclear; but its target was Washington D.C., not the Security Council's 1st Ave. home in New York, and certainly not Beijing.
Labeling the Obama administration a "criminal threatening global peace" the Hermit Kingdom vowed preemptive nuclear action if the United States pressed ahead with the sanctions vote. It also announced it would revoke all its non-aggression deals with South Korea, America's "puppet."
"Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest," said Pyongyang.
The United States, and the Security Council, brushed off the North Korean threat as another rhetorical blast signifying little. "Let us be clear: We are fully capable of dealing with that threat," White House spokesman Jay Carney, assured reporters, citing Pyongyang's limited ballistic missile capability.
That asymmetry may be at the heart of why North Korea continues to test its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The country's new leader likely feels that the tests help consolidate his hold on power at home. And clearly, he is seeking to rattle his new South Korean counterpart at a time of political transition. Or maybe, as Jennifer Lind, an associate professor at Dartmouth University, suggested in a piece in Foreign Affairs, North Korea is simply conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests because that what you need to do to improve your arsenal.
Whatever the motivation, North Korea has ample cause to blame the United States for its latest troubles. The United States took the lead in negotiating the past five Security Council sanctions resolutions.
But the most recent spate of sanctions wouldn't have happened without North Korea's dearest friend and benefactor, China.
The resolution adopted by the council on Thursday was hammered out in closed door negotiations between Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Chinese counterpart, Li Baodong. It was presented to the other council members as a joint U.S.-China resolution. And while Li had initially resisted the American push for sanctions, he finally came around and pledged to ensure that the council's measures are implemented in full.
That means China -- however grudgingly -- is on board for a sweeping range of financial, diplomatic, and military sanctions, including a humiliating luxury ban designed to deny Kim Jong Un and his inner circle the ability to buy yachts, racing cars, and fine jewelry.
So why hasn't Kim's propaganda brigade laid a glove on Beijing?
Analysts believe that while Beijing is truly irked by Pyongyang's nuclear bravado, its primary goal is avoiding a collapse of the regime, which could result in the flight of huge numbers of refugees into China, and lay the groundwork for Korea's unification and the possible deployment of Korean and American forces closer to its border.
"We have been socialized into expecting so little from China that there's excitement when China shows even a bit of sternness," wrote Victor Cha, Korea chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Ellen Kim, a fellow at the CSIS. But they added: "In the past, China-DPRK trade has increased in the aftermath of U.N. sanctions."
Dartmouth's Lind told Turtle Bay that Pyongyang "probably understands it is walking a pretty fine line when it comes to China" and does not want to antagonize its neighbor any more than it already has.
On the one hand, she said, Pyongyang's leadership recognizes that Beijing has an interest in preserving the North Korean regime to serve as a buffer between South Korea and its military protector, the United States. But she added that Beijing's relationship with Pyongyang threatens to become increasingly estranged as China's global interests diverge.
"China has growing interests and it wants to be a leading power. North Korea is like one of those friends you had in high school that you are a little embarrassed of when you get older," said Lind.
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U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has hit an impasse in his efforts to promote a Syrian political transition that would ultimately lead to President Bashar al-Assad yielding power to a caretaker national unity government. But it hasn't stopped him from trying. In a closed door session of the Security Council this week, Brahimi introduced a six point plan to try to break the political impasse. He expressed hope that his plan could inform a Security Council peace initiative on Syria. "I think that public opinion the world over is now looking up to the Security Council to take a determined, strong lead," he told the council in a confidential briefing. A copy of Brahimi's remarks was posted this evening by Alhurra's U.N. reporter, Nabil Abi Saab. Here's Brahimi's six point plan:
1. Syria's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity must be preserved.
2. A recognition that ultimate objective is for Syrians to have a full say in the way they are governed.
3. The formation of a transition government with "full executive powers." Brahimi says he believes that means President Bashar al Assad "would have no role in the transition."
4. Both sides would need to be represented by broad group of opposition leaders and strong military-civilian delegation from the Syrian government.
5. Negotiations should occur outside of Syria, and conform with a timetable setting out a speedy path towards elections, constitutional reform, and a referendum. He raised the prospect of moving from a presidential system of government to a parliamentarian system.
6. He urged the U.N. Security Council to unequivocally express support for the right of each citizen in Syria "to enjoy full equality before the law irrespective of gender, religion, language or ethnicity."
After presenting his plan to the Security Council on Tuesday, Brahimi met with the five permanent members of the council at a dinner hosted by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at her official residence at the Waldorf Astoria. Diplomats said that the council's big powers expressed support for Brahimi's efforts but were unable to endorse his plan. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador, made it clear that any political settlement would have to be negotiated with President Assad, not imposed by the Security Council. There are no immediate plans for the council's key powers to resume discussions on Brahimi's plan.
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U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi issued an impassioned appeal to U.N. Security Council members, particularly the United States and Russia, to put aside their differences and to take firmer action to help stop the bleeding in Syria.
The country, he warned, is on the verge of disintegrating and the Syrian combatants were undercutting prospects for any hope of a diplomatic settlement.
"I'm sorry if I sound like an old broken record," Brahimi told the council, according to notes of his briefing obtained by Turtle Bay. "The country is breaking up before everyone's eyes."
Brahimi told the council that the effort to persuade the warring factions to enter political talks had run aground, with the Syrian government and the armed opposition unwilling to talk to one another. Key regional powers, meanwhile, had picked sides in the conflict, transforming Syria into a "playground for competing forces."
The veteran U.N. trouble-shooter said the best hope for reversing the situation's worsening trend lies with the Security Council, which has remained paralyzed by a big power split between Russia and China on one side, who oppose punishing Bashar al-Assad's government for its brutality, and Western and Arab powers on the other, who favor sanctioning Syria.
"The Security Council simply cannot continue to say we are in disagreement, therefore let us wait for better times," Brahimi told reporters after the meeting, adding that he would continue to discuss Syria at a dinner tonight with the council's five major powers. "I think they have to grapple with this problem now."
Behind closed doors, Brahimi said the Syrian regime "is as repressive as ever, if not more," but that the armed opposition was also believed to have committed "equally atrocious crimes." He said international investigations are needed to get to the bottom of some of the country's worst human rights calamities, including this week's massacre of at least 65 people in Aleppo.
Brahimi said that he would continue to press the council's permanent members, including the United States and Russia, at a private dinner tonight to reach agreement on a common approach to Syria.
He said he would continue to press for his plan for the establishment of a transitional government with "full executive powers."
Brahimi told reporters that it was time to "lift the ambiguity" about the meaning of that phrase, though he did not say publicly exactly what that would mean for Assad. Behind closed doors, however, he told council diplomats that "it clearly means that Assad should have no role in the transition.... Assad's legitimacy has been irreparably damaged."
After the meeting, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that Washington "expressed strong support" for Brahimi's peace efforts and that it will continue to engage in talks with Brahimi and other key powers. But, she said, "I don't have any promises of any big breakthroughs."
Brahimi, meanwhile, confronted persistent rumors, published in the Arab press, that he was planning to resign from his job.
"I'm not a quitter, and the United Nations has no choice but to remain engaged with this problem" he told reporters. "The moment I feel that I am totally useless I will not stay one minute more."
"I didn't want this job," he admitted, suggesting that perhaps he taken it on "stupidly." "I felt a sense of duty," said Brahimi.
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U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to present the U.N. Security Council tomorrow with a darkly pessimistic assessment of peace prospects in Syria, where political repression and civil war have left more 60,000 people dead, according to U.N. estimates, and threatened to plunge the Middle East into a wider sectarian conflict, according to U.N. diplomats and officials.
Since his appointment last August, Brahimi has promoted a plan for a negotiated settlement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition that would lead to the establishment of a transitional government headed by opposition leaders and members of Assad's security establishment. Brahimi has invested his hopes and prestige on brokering a deal between the United States and Russia to compel the warring parties to accept peace.
But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month rebuffed Brahimi's plan in a public address to Syrians, denouncing the armed oppositions as "terrorists" and "criminals" that needed to be confronted with arms. "They are the enemies of God, and they will go to hell," said Assad. The armed opposition has also made it clear it is not willing to negotiate as long as Assad is in power. And talks between the United States and Russia, meanwhile, are stalled over the fate of Assad.
Brahimi was "quite negative" about the prospect for a negotiated settlement in discussions with Security Council diplomats during the past week. He told them that he has no intention of outlining a specific new plan to break the current impasse, according to a council diplomat.
"The guy is stuck; he has no good news," added a senior U.N. colleague. "Everything he has tried to do is not working."
The U.N. assessment of the fighting has evolved since early December, when senior U.N. officials believed that Assad's regime was on the verge of collapse. Today, the balance of power has returned to a "military stalemate," according to a senior U.N. official.
The official said that Brahimi continues to believe that a negotiated political settlement presents the greatest hope of averting a chaotic collapse of Syria's institutions. And he will continue to promote it. But he "doesn't hide the fact" that the two sides are equally committed to fighting it out.
"The picture therefore is very grim," the official said.
Brahimi remains committed to pressing the U.N. Security Council's key powers, principally the United States and Russia, to coalesce behind a common position. Ironically, the official said, Brahimi believes that the two governments' assessments of the crisis are not that far apart, but it has been difficult to bridge the gap.
Moscow has expressed fresh doubts about Assad's prospects for survival, but it has shown little willingness to join the United States and other Western powers in ratcheting up pressure in the U.N. Security Council on Assad to step aside.
In an interview this weekend with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Assad may have made "a fatal mistake" by failing to move earlier to reach a political deal with the "moderate opposition" in Syria. "I think that with every day, with every week, with every month, the chances of him surviving are becoming less and less," said Medvedev.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- generally a more reliable barometer of the Russian policy -- insisted that Moscow, Damascus's longstanding military ally, was "never enchanted with this regime. And we never supported it," he told reporters. "And all of our actions, aimed at helping to fulfill the Geneva agreement to form the transitional body, only confirm that we want the situation to stabilize, and the creation of the conditions that Syrians can themselves decide their fate -- of their own people, their own state, their own leadership."
Western diplomats said that while they welcome Lavrov's remarks they say Russian officials have previously distanced themselves from their long-time ally only to come to his defense in the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow has blocked three attempts by the West to threaten to punish Assad.
"We noticed the [Russian] comments and we're pleased to see them," said a council diplomat. "But it's not something we haven't seen before. If [President Vladimir] Putin had said them we'd be reacting quite differently."
"Our assessment at this point in time is pretty sobering: there has been no movement by Assad, nor by the Russians," added a Western diplomat. "They have not come forward with anything to support Brahimi."
In a sign of big power discord at the United Nations, the permanent five members of the Security Council will hold off on plans to meet Brahimi until after he has briefed the council. (A dinner has been scheduled for Tuesday night.) Diplomats said that the big five would likely have met before if there was any hope of forging a common position.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was not enough to leave it to the Syrians to resolve the crisis on their own. At a Paris conference of the Syrian National Coalition, Fabius said that the international community must bolster the opposition's moderate forces lest Islamic extremists take charge in Syria.
"We must give the Syrian opposition the means to support its people, urgently and tangibly," he said. "Because let's be clear: faced with the collapse of a state and a society, there is a risk of extremist groups gaining ground. We cannot let a revolt, which began as a peaceful and democratic protest, break down into a clash of militias. It is in the interests of the Syrian people and all of us."
Back at the U.N., there was growing despair about the chances of a peaceful settlement.
"We are extremely pessimistic of any chance of any political settlement," said another Security Council diplomat. "This is a conflict which will be resolved over the very long term. We know both sides have decided to fight to the death."
"Brahimi has good intentions but its been very clear from the beginning that his mission was impossible," the official said. "Not sure he will last very long in his current position, not because he will be kicked out but simply because he will draw the conclusion that it's a desperate situation."
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An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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The U.N. Security Council today voted unanimously to establish a U.S. and European-backed African military force to rebuild Mali's troubled military, and to begin preparing it for a possible military offensive to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Malian separatists and Islamic extremists.
The European Union plans to send military trainers to Bamako in the coming months to begin training the Malian army, which -- disgruntled by the government's inability to counter insurgent forces -- staged a military coup in March and forced the removal of the interim leader this December.
A reconstituted and reequipped Malian army is intended to lead a campaign to conquer the north. But the supporting African force -- which is expected to be made up of several thousand troops from West Africa and the Sahel -- is unlikely to be sent to Mali before September or October, 2013.
The Security Council resolution does not specify what role the United States would play in the military campaign against al Qaeda and its allies. But it provides wide legal scope for foreign governments, including the United States, to "take all necessary measures" -- including the use of lethal force -- and provide "any necessary assistance, " including military training, equipment, intelligence and logistics, in support of the Malian fight against Islamic extremists.
The Obama administration has harbored deep misgivings about the ability of a Malian-led force to prevail in combat with al Qaeda and its allies. But today's vote ended weeks of tense negotiations between France, which was determined to authorize a new intervention force before the year's end, and the United States, which wanted to wait until the country had elected a new civilian president.
Washington agreed to co-sponsor today's resolution after securing a commitment from Paris to ensure that the United States and other Security Council members would be give another shot at reviewing the military plan before the force receives a green light for offensive operations.
Following the vote, France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said a military attack on Islamic forces in northern Mali was not inevitable, however, and that his government still held out hope that the crisis could be resolved through political dialogue with Mali's moderate northern insurgents. The resolution, he said, "is not a declaration of war."
Long a model of African stability and democracy, Mali's civilian government has faced a series of existential threats to its rule this year, including a rebellion in northern Mali by an alliance of Malian Touareg's and al Qaeda linked groups, primarily Ansar Dine, followed by a military coup by soldiers embittered by the failure of President Amadou Toumani Toure to adequately supply troops seeking to put down the rebellion.
In recent months, Islamic militants -- including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement of United and Jihad in West Africa -- have seized control the uprising, driving out their erstwhile Touareg allies from key northern cities, including Timbuktu and Gao, imposing sharia law, and committing widespread human rights abuses. Their presence has raised concern in Washington, which is expected to help train, equip, and provide transport for the new force, known as the African-led International Support Mission, or AFISMA.
But the political turmoil in Mali has complicated Washington's role. U.S. law restricts financial assistance or military aid to Mali, because its democratic government was ousted in a coup in March, led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who remains the power behind a fragile transitional government. Earlier this month, the military again showed its strength and displeasure, ordering the arrest of the interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, and forcing his resignation. Django Sissoko was later named to replace him.
The United States has insisted that Mali conduct new presidential elections, preferably in April, before any final decision is made to send a Malian-led African force into the north.
The new force, which will be made up primarily of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Sahel, including Nigeria and Senegal, is intended to put military muscle behind a broader plan to restore stability and democracy in Mali.
Today's resolution urges Malian authorities to commit to a "transitional roadmap," including inclusive political talks with northern groups -- including the Touaregs -- that "cut off all ties to terrorist organizations" linked to al Qaeda. It also calls for holding elections "by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible."
The resolution aims to place a wedge between ethnic Malian rebel groups and the more hardline Islamists, threatening to impose sanctions on individuals who maintain links with al Qaeda and its associates. It also expresses its "readiness to consider appropriate measures" against Malian officers to who stand in the way of the country's transition to civilian rule.
Today's vote, said Ivory Coast's U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, speaking on behalf of ECOWAS, "is a great message of hope and solidarity" for Malians "who can now begin to believe [there will be an] end of their nightmares."
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Key U.N. powers said today that Mali's military's arrest and ouster of the country's transitional leader, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, would not deter the U.N. Security Council from forging ahead with plans to intervene in Mali to confront Islamists militants in the north of the country. But it did little to paper over differences between the United States and France on how to get the job done.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered a decidedly uncharitable assessment of a French- and African-backed plan to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda. "It's crap," the U.S. envoy told a gathering of U.N.-based officials, according to one of the officials. Rice's office declined to comment.
The American envoy's assessment reflected deep misgivings that the Malian army, supported by a Nigerian-led coalition of 3,300 troops from 15 Western African countries has the manpower or the skills required to contend with a battle-tested insurgency with experience fighting in the Sahel's unforgiving desert. Rice's candor also deals a setback to a long, drawn-out effort by France and West African countries to secure U.N. Security Council mandate for a regional intervention force in Mali.
The United States is not alone in having misgivings. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently issued a report that argued against an immediate military intervention in Mali, saying the international community should devote its attention to stitching together a political agreement among Mali's squabbling groups, setting force aside as a "last resort." Herve Ladsous, the head of the U.N.'s peacekeeping department and one of the U.N.'s few advocates of military intervention, said recently that even if the intervention plan is approved it would take until September or October, 2013, for the international force to be deployed.
"We should not forget that in any military intervention, even when successful, tens of thousands more people are likely to become displaced both inside the country and across borders," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Monday. "Newly arriving refugees in the neighboring countries are increasingly citing the prospect of military intervention as one of the reasons that pushed them to flee."
Despite these concerns -- and Rice's frank remark -- the United States supports military action in Mali to confront Islamist militants. Just not yet. And not without a role for some of America's most important counterterrorism allies (principally Algeria) that are not members of the West African peacekeeping coalition, and which have so far proven reluctant to sign on to a risky fight with Mali's Islamists that could provoke the group's allies inside Algeria.
The predicament has contributed to the impression of American policymaking as confused in confronting the spread of terrorism and militant Islam in Mali, where insurgents have benefited from an influx of weapons from Libya in the wake of Muammar al-Qaddafi's downfall. But some officials believe the muddled picture is more a reflection of the fact that America's counterinsurgency strategy in the region remains a work in progress.
The Obama administration is seeking broader congressional support for counterterrorism operations in Mali and other northern African countries, while U.S. military planners have been pressing Mali's neighbors with desert fighting experience, including Algeria, Chad, and Mauritania, to participate in military action. William Burns, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, traveled to Algiers over the weekend to prod the government into deepening its role in Mali.
But American diplomats in New York have been urging the Security Council to go slowly, putting off a foreign campaign to confront the Islamists until a new president is elected.
Washington favors what it calls a "two-step authorization" of military force. The first step would involve the swift approval of a resolution authorizing the deployment of an African force to train the Malian army, which put up virtually no resistance to the Islamists, and would express an intention to conduct offensive operations in the north, but only if it is satisfied with a refined military plan -- known as a concept of operations -- that would be due to the council within 45 days. A second resolution, according to the U.S. plan, would authorize offensive operations in northern Mali, as well as a follow-up effort to stabilize a reconquered northern Mali. It remains unclear what military role the United States would play in the counterterrorism operation.
America's diplomatic caution reflects misgivings about the African military plan, questions about who will participate in -- and pay for -- the mission. But it is also stems from American legal constraints. The United States is prohibited by law from providing financial support to Mali's government because the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup in March. Thus it is pressing Mali's interim government to hold presidential elections, initially scheduled for April 2013, before sending foreign armies into Mali to confront the Islamists.
"Mali needs now more than ever a strong democratic government to restore its democratic tradition and provide the strong leadership necessary to negotiate a political agreement with northern rebels, reform its security sector, and lead a military intervention in the north to restore and maintain Mali's territorial integrity," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said last week.
At the Security Council on Monday, Rice said the effort to confront al Qaeda in Mali will require a broader effort by governments in the region to combat transitional crime, including drug trafficking, and the proliferation of terror organizations. "The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali," she told the council.
Rice said there is a need to pursue a multifaceted strategy, including political, humanitarian, environmental, and military pieces, to address the crisis. "Given Mali's delicate situation, we must be careful to address the crises in Mali without further destabilizing the entire region," she said. "Any military intervention in Mali must thus be designed to minimize the operation's humanitarian impact and the impact on human rights." But she provided few insights into what role Washington would play in support of the counterinsurgency operation in Mali.
France agrees that the U.N. needs to pursue a coordinated strategy that addresses many of the country's political, humanitarian, and environmental needs. But it also believes that yesterday's ouster of Prime Minister Diarra only highlights the need for swift military action. "These developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force," France's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The crisis in Mali underscores the rising threat of anti-Western Islamic militancy in North Africa and the Sahel. But it also marks the clearest evidence of blowback from the U.S.-backed military campaign that toppled Qaddafi.
Early this year, Touareg separatists -- many of whom served as Qaddafi's mercenaries -- fighting under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, struck an alliance with Islamist groups, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Dine, to fulfill their long-held dream of establishing an independent Touareg nation. Backed by an influx of weapons from the Libyan war, they quickly defeated the national army, triggering a military coup in the capital, Bamako, by younger officers angered that the government had not supplied them with enough military equipment to meet the fight in the north. But the Touaregs were quickly forced out of the way by their Islamist allies, who had little interest in securing Touareg independence.
The movement now claims control of more than half of the country's territory, including the key northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. U.N. and African mediators are trying to persuade more moderate factions to break ranks with militants linked to al Qaeda. While there have been some statements, U.N. diplomats say it is too early to say whether those efforts are succeeding or not.
Traore Rokiatou Guikine, Mali's minister for African integration, warned the U.N. Security Council last week that foreign Islamists are taking advantage of the security vacuum in northern Mali to consolidate their gains. "The deployment of the force is urgent," she said. "Terrorists have stepped up their activities and are seeking reinforcements to carry out jihad from Mali. Mali is on the way to becoming a breeding ground for terrorists."
The government in Bamako has received firm backing from France, South Africa, India, and other council members for a military response. "The situation in Mali requires an urgent response from the international community," South Africa's U.N. envoy Baso Sangqu said on Monday. "If left unchecked, the situation in the Sahel threatens to spread and affect the countries in the region and beyond, and pose a threat to international peace and security," said Sangqu.
France, meanwhile, favors the adoption of a single Security Council resolution authorizing a foreign intervention force by Christmas, although it could be many months before it is ever sent to Mali.
The French favor what they call a "two track" approach -- promoting a democratic political transition while training Malian security forces to conduct offensive military operations. Unlike the Americans, however, French officials believe it is illogical for the military operations to be put off until after Mali's presidential election, particularly as Malians living in territory seized by the Islamists would not be able to vote. "Do you think that al Qaeda will be securing voting booths for a fair election?" asked one Security Council diplomat.
And with Diarra now removed from office by the military officers who toppled his predeccesor, the country's political future is now even murkier.
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President Barack Obama last night boasted about American leadership in toppling Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, reopening the debate about whether it was the United States or France and Britain that deserved credit for overthrowing Africa's longest ruling dictator.
"I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to -- without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq -- liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans," Obama said in the final presidential debate. "And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, ‘America's our friend.'"
"This is an example of -- of how we make choices, you know, when we went into Libya and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we also had to make sure that Muammar Qaddafi didn't stay there," he said. "Muammar Qaddafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job."
The American claim to having led the effort has always irritated the French and British, who first mounted a diplomatic campaign at the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi from using his aircraft to attack civilians. The United States initially refused to participate in that effort and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, repeatedly criticized the European initiative as feckless.
One top European diplomat denounced Washington's claims of leadership over the Libya campaign as "revisionist history." This morning, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen weighed in, arguing that Obama's claims of having led the coalition in Libya was among the most dishonest claims of the entire foreign policy debate.
President Obama "strongly suggested that he had America take the lead in Libya, organizing the air campaign that brought down Moammar Gaddafi. In fact, the French took the lead and the United States followed, which gave rise the phrase "leading from behind" -- an indictable offense, if you ask me. Obama also suggested that Gaddafi was some sort of American enemy when actually Washington had cut a deal with the Libyan strongman and then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had met with him in 2008."
So what actually happened? I covered the diplomatic deliberations over the war against Libya. And while the United States initially provided little diplomatic support to their European allies' push for a no-fly zone ( and largely kept them in the dark about internal U.S. deliberations on the use of force), it ultimately took charge of the diplomatic effort at the U.N., and pursued a far more aggressive military approach than that advocated by the Europeans.
In March, 2011, pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance and led to the slaughter of large numbers of civilians.
Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, but received virtually no support from the United States.
"The Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," the frustrated then French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee on March 15, 2011, two daysbefore the council acted. "Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?"
France's irritation stemmed from a perception that President Obama's national security team was hesitant to participate in an air operation to protect civilians. Even as the White House labored in internal discussions toward considering a military approach, Rice peppered her colleagues in the Security Council with so many questions and conditions -- we won't go in without the Arabs, for instance -- that some suspected she was trying to kill off the initiative.
Two days before the air campaign was ultimately authorized, France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, informed Rice that European governments would push for a vote on a resolution creating a no-fly zone, with or without America's support.
Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats. "You're not going to drag us into your shitty war," Rice snapped, according to an account by a senior council diplomat. Araud shot back: "We are not a subsidiary of the United States."
But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to choose whether to back a military response, or step aside.
Following the conversation between Rice and Araud, the United States held a high-level teleconference with Obama's top national security team, including Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had just met with Arab leaders, agreed to intervene. Rice, who had a deep skepticism about the European approach, mounted a far more aggressive campaign for a resolution authorizing air strikes against Libyan forces to prevent the slaughter of civilians. Within two days, Rice had secured narrow 10-5 vote in favor of military force, underscoring the tenuous international support, but sufficient to launch the air war, which ultimately helped the rebels over throw Qaddafi.
A senior administration official said that the off-color encounter with Araud didn't "ring a bell" with Rice. But the official defended Rice's handling of the Libya file. The British and French were unaware that at the time she was questioning the wisdom of their approach -- which she called a "naked no-fly zone" -- that she was arguing for far tougher action in the White House, and that she had discretely advised her staff weeks earlier to draft a resolution authorizing sweeping military powers, according to the senior U.S. diplomat. (The contents of the draft have never been published.)
"There were some colleagues who were supportive of action who quite frankly thought we were trying to poison this, that we were trying to up the ante so far that we blew it up," Rice told me last year. "But we were dead serious and we believed this couldn't be half hearted. It had to be for real if it was worth doing."
Fair enough. But the notion that the United States led the U.N. effort in Libya continues to grate on the nerves of some European diplomats who felt the Americans left their closest allies in the dark until the final decision to act.
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Woah. Who could imagine that a Republican presidential candidate would pledge to go to the United Nations for lessons on fighting the war-on-terror?
Sure, Mitt Romney said in the final foreign policy phase of the debates that he'll "go after the bad guys" and ‘kill them to take them out of the picture."
But once he's done taking down al Qaeda's lieutenants, Romney said he would look to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) -- a department long criticized by Republican hardliners -- for a plan to counter extremism in the Muslim world.
"We can't kill our way out of this mess. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the ... world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is -- it's certainly not on the run," Romney said. "And how we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the -- the world reject these -- these terrorists. And the answer they came up was this:"
"One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment and that of our friends -- we should coordinate it to make sure that we -- we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies."
Those prescriptions for change come straight out of The Arab Development Report, which was first published by the United Nations Development Program in 2002 and championed by the agency's then-executive director Mark Malloch Brown. It brought together about 200 scholars, policymakers, and opinion leaders from the Arab world and asked them to propose ways to improve the lives of ordinary people in the Muslim World.
The report's findings have long been controversial in the Arab world, however, and U.N. leaders -- including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and current U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon -- have done little to compel Arab leaders to abide by them.
But since the Arab Spring, Ban has cited the U.N. publication of the annual report as evidence that the United Nations had been committed to democratic change in the region -- even though the Arab world's despots, including former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were routinely lauded as peacemakers.
Romney's embrace of the UNDP initiative also marks a remarkable break for Republicans, who have clashed with UNDP over its program on North Korea, which was shut down in 2007 following allegations by the George W. Bush administration that a $3.7 million annual program was improperly funneling hard currency to the regime. The program has since been reopened under stricter regulations.
Romney did take some swipes at President Barack Obama for pursuing a diplomatic process at the United Nations, where more than a year's worth of efforts have failed to get President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power. "What I'm afraid of is we've watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well we'll let the U.N. deal with it. And Assad -- excuse me, Kofi Annan -- came in and said we're going to try to have a ceasefire. That didn't work. Then it went to the Russians and said, let's see if you can do something."
Romney sought to contrast his own approach, saying he would support efforts by regional powers -- including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -- to arm the Syrian rebels. But in the end, Romney placed strict limits on the use of U.S. power to get the job done. "I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future," he said. "As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure they get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also to remove -- to remove Assad. But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our -- of our troops."
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The U.N. Security Council is about to get a little more friendly to the United States -- or at least easier to deal with.
Five new rotating council members elected on Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly include four close American allies -- Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda, and South Korea -- that are expected to vote alongside Washington on most of the council's key security matters, from Syria to Iran to North Korea. Completing the line up is Argentina, which may prove to be most resistant to American aims. Each nation will serve a two-year term beginning in January 2013.
The council's new composition marks a departure from recent years, when emerging powers like Brazil, India, Turkey, and South Africa -- eager to prove they had the stuff to become permanent members of the Security Council -- had sought to assert their influence as a counterweight to U.S. power at the United Nations. India and South Africa are set to step down from the council at the end of the year; Turkey left the council at the end of 2010, and Brazil departed at the end of 2011.
"This means the council will be more accommodating," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. specialist at the Century Foundation. "This is a major plus for American diplomacy. They won't have the headache of having to court big players, like the IBSA [India, Brazil, and South Africa] who are not always in your pocket."
The big power divisions between the council's Western powers -- the United States, Britain, and France -- and China and Russia will remain in place, however, limiting the prospects of movement on Syria or Iran. But the pro-Western tilt of the new slate, including middle powers like Australia and South Korea, is likely to lead to a more collaborative approach with the United States.
"This is a very different dynamic; these are both G-20 members, and they are both core U.S. allies," said Bruce Jones, director of New York University Center on International Cooperation. "This is an important opportunity for that older mode of Western middle powers to make the case that their form of engagement is still relevant."
Jones said that the departing crop of aspirants to global leadership, including Brazil, India, and Turkey, have been unable to drive the policy agenda on the U.N. Security Council, where they have been routinely outmaneuvered or overruled by the council's five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.
For instance, Brazil, India, and South Africa joined forces last year to dilute efforts by the United States and its European partners to apply tough sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And Brazil and Turkey had sought to carve out a mediation role for themselves between the U.N. Security Council and Iran over its nuclear program.
But the permanent five, viewing a challenge to the primacy of their diplomatic role in Iran, shot down the initiative. Brazil, India, and South Africa, meanwhile, eventually acquiesced to Western pressure to back a tougher line against Syria.
Some of the new members have already begun to identify projects they are likely to pursue in the council during their two-year tenure. For instance, Australia is weighing whether to focus its attention on modernizing the U.N. approach to peacekeeping. Luxembourg is planning to promote U.N. peace-building efforts and Argentina has its eye on raising attention to the plight of children in armed conflict.
But there is another trend that could prove more vexing: The current crop of rotating council members are likely to be more entangled in conflicts of interest than was the previous slate. Argentina signaled this week that it may use its position to press its case for a dialogue with Britain on the future of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. South Korea will participate in addressing the nuclear standoff with its northern neighbor, North Korea. (And Korean diplomats' relations with their former boss, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will attract scrutiny). And other hold-over members have issues of their own. Azerbaijan has interests in the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabagh; Morocco in Western Sahara; and Pakistan in Afghanistan.
Rwanda is proving to be the most interesting -- and controversial -- of the new members. Rwanda, which ran unopposed for the African seat, last served in the Security Council from 1993 to 1994, at the height of the Rwandan genocide. But its seat was held by a representative of a government responsible for carrying out the mass slaughter in Rwanda.
Today, Rwanda is currently led by President Paul Kagame, a former rebel commander who drove the former regime from power, and has since led the country through a remarkable economic growth that has placed Rwandan in line. But the government has faced criticism for suppressing political freedom at home and committing human rights abuses as part of a campaign to stem the return of Rwanda's former rulers.
"The contrast could not be sharper between that previous tenure -- when a genocidal government occupied a prized Security Council seat as its agents waged genocide back home -- and the Rwanda of today: a nation of peace, unity, progress and optimism," said Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
"Working with fellow members, Rwanda will draw on its experience to fight for the robust implementation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that demands that the world takes notice -- and action -- when innocent civilians face the threat of atrocities at the hands of their governments, with the understanding that situations have specificities that need to be taken into account."
But while Mushikiwabo celebrated the country's achievement in the Security Council race, her government has come under criticism for alleged military misconduct in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Earlier this week, the U.N. Group of Experts released a report accusing Rwanda, along with help from Uganda, of sponsoring and commanding a military mutiny, known as M23, in eastern Congo, violating a U.N. arms embargo. Just yesterday, France circulated a draft Security Council statement that called for condemning the M23 and its foreign backers, a veiled reference to Rwanda and Uganda.
"After blatantly violating the Security Council's arms embargo and undermining the work of the U.N. by propping up the abusive M23 rebels, Rwanda is rewarded with a seat at the table," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch.
"Kigali is now in a position to try to shield its own officials implicated in abuses from U.N. sanctions, which is a flagrant conflict of interest."
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Libya's president Mohammed Magarief today contradicted American claims that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic film, telling NBC's Anne Curry in an interview broadcast this morning.
"It has nothing to do with this attack," said Magarief, noting that the assailants used rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire in the attack. "It's a preplanned act of terrorism against American citizens."
The remarks came more than one week after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued that the attack, which killed four American nationals, including U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, had been triggered by popular anger from Libyan Muslims offended by the film.
"Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous -- not a premeditated -- response to what had transpired in Cairo," Rice told ABC's "This Week." "We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the...consulate...to replicate that sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons."
Rice's account has come under scrutiny in the following days as the administration's explanation for the attack evolved.
Republicans have criticized the account of the attack, suggesting that the Obama administration is seeking to mask the facts. They have seized on the fact that President Barack Obama has not characterized the attack as an act of terror, even though other senior administration officials have, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
"It is troubling that President Obama refuses to call the Libya attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 an act of terror," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "For weeks President Obama and his administration have failed to acknowledge the facts behind the Libya attack."
Asked to explain the discrepancy, Rice's office referred Turtle Bay to White House spokesman Jay Carney's reaction to the Libyan president claim that the U,S. consulate had been targeted in a pre-planned terror attack. "Over the course of the past two weeks, this administration has provided as much information as it has been able to."
"It continues to be the case that we provided information based on what we know -- not based on speculation but based on what we know -- acknowledging that we are continuing an investigation that will undoubtedly uncover more facts, and as more facts and more details emerge we will, when appropriate, provide them to you."
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President Barack Obama has placed multilateralism and the United Nations at the forefront of his foreign policy.
But he's just not that into it right now.
Earlier this year, Obama rebuffed a request by Ban Ki-moon to attend the international U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. And next week, Obama will give short shrift to world leaders converging on midtown Manhattan for the annual diplo-talk fest that is called the U.N. General Debate and what most were hoping would allow a face-to-face meeting with the American president. As it turns out, they'll barely get a glimpse of him.
In what is scheduled to be one of the briefest presidential appearances at a U.N. General Assembly debate in recent memory, Obama will sit for a brief meeting with Ban, deliver his speech before foreign leaders, then head cross-town to speak at former President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative forum (a couple of hours after Governor Mitt Romney addresses the gathering), according to U.S. officials.
All those world leaders -- including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been eager to press Obama to take a more confrontational approach to Iran; Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, who infuriated Washington over his tepid first reaction to attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo; and French President Francois Hollande, who had expected to meet with Obama -- will have to wait for another opportunity.
"Historically, Obama has never liked big multilateral summits (he hates meeting EU leaders for example) so U.N. is no fun for him," Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at NYU's Center for International Coalition, said in a Twitter interview on Wednesday with Turtle Bay. "Once the big speech is complete, Obama doesn't get any electoral benefits from gabbing with other leaders."
He may have an election just around the corner, but Obama's U.N. diplomatic drive-by comes as the United States is confronted with a series of American national security crises abroad, including a major political, military, and human rights calamity in Syria.
Last week, U.S. embassies around the Islamic world were the subject of violent demonstrations, including an armed assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Obama's reticence to engage with world leaders in New York reflects a president in full campaign mode, keen to avoid any new foreign policy commitments or controversies, particularly on Iran, where the president is seeking to deflect increasingly vocal demands by Netanyahu to take a more confrontational approach to Iran's nuclear program.
Gowan said he anticipated Obama's U.N. speech to target American voters, offering tough condemnation of Iran, sharp criticism of Russia and China for their failure to support sanctions against Syria, but few new commitments. "What he won't do is make any big promises for second about climate change or international law," said Gowan.
Edward Luck, a U.N. historian and dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, said such a brief appearance by a president of the United States, the host government of the United Nations, was extremely rare and political unwise.
"Such a sudden exit would be unusual, to say the least. I'm not sure, but it occurs to me that Reagan may not have come to the opening of the GA every year," Luck said. I recall Bush being quite active on the bilaterals, which matter for domestic political purposes as well as for international ones."
"The General Debate is a great place to look presidential, something that should benefit an incumbent in a close race. Even if Obama decided not to take any bilaterals, so that they would not appear to be politicized by the election, it would not be good form to skip the [secretary general's] lunch. That could easily be seen as a snub, when both hope to need to work with each other over the next four years. "
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The murder of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American nationals in Libya this week drove home the point that America's Foreign Service officers, far from their reputation as pencil-pushing bureaucrats, often confront enormous personal risks in the field.
In a rare act of bipartisan unity, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and ranking member Richard Lugar (R-IN) issued a resolution commending the fallen Americans and arranged a memorial with a photograph of Stevens, who had once served as a congressional aide to the committee.
"It's a stark reminder that anywhere in the world, those people representing our country in the foreign service are on the front lines," Kerry told my Washington Post colleague Karen DeYoung. "It's more dangerous than it has been in a long time because of radical, extreme religious exploitation and terrorism."
But members of Stevens' profession have more often been the object of ridicule and criticism in Washington, particularly among conservatives who have viewed career Foreign Service officers as too sympathetic to the Democratic Party, too willing to sell out American interests, and reluctant to follow orders from Republican presidents' political appointees.
Barry Goldwater, the patron saint of the American conservative movement, once suggested that the only way to fix the State Department is by "firing the first six floors" below the Secretary of State's 7th floor office.
Even in the midst of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, conservative commentators have lashed out at America's ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, a career officer whose previous posting was in Pakistan, for rumors that she had ordered U.S. Marines not to carry live ammunition, according to a report in Mother Jones. The allegation, drawn from conservative blogs was untrue, according to the Marine Corps, which issued a statement saying "reports of Marines not being able to have their weapons loaded per direction from the Ambassador are not accurate."
The memoirs of the Bush administration's most conservative foreign policy figures, including John Bolton, who would later apply Goldwater remedy for reform to the United Nations, and Douglas Feith, reveal deep suspicions regarding the political inclinations of Foreign Service officers. "The essence of my complaint about the State Department [is] the refusal of officials there to look to their president as their touchstone," Feith wrote in his book War and Decision.
In his memoir Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, derided State Department Brahmins for promoting a culture of "clientitis" and conspiring with so-called EUroids -- European Union diplomats -- and other foreign diplomats to hatch agreements that served the aims of diplomacy more than American interests.
"State careerists are schooled in accommodation and compromise with foreigners, rather than aggressive advocacy of U.S. interests, which might inconveniently disrupt the serenity of diplomatic exchanges, not to mention dinner parties and receptions," Bolton wrote.
In the president election, Texas Governor Rick Perry, found a ready target in the Foreign Service. "I'm not sure our State Department serves us well," Perry told Fox New host Bill O'Reilly in a radio interview in November 2011. "I'm talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice in the administration that's in the country's best interest."
In Washington, this week, the embassy attacks provided policymakers with an opportunity to reflect on a profession which is not always understood or fully appreciated by the public, and which is frequently vilified for being insufficiently patriotic.
"All over the world, every day, America's diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world, that these aspirations are worth striving and sacrificing for," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, noting that the names of America's fallen diplomats are inscribed in marble in the State Department lobby. "Alongside our men and women in uniform, they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation."
Susan Johnson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, said remarks like Perry's underscore ignorance about the role Foreign Service professionals play in serving American interests. "There are those few who have the suspicion that you're sympathizing more with foreigners than with Americans," she said. "There is a view that these [foreigners] are people who hate America and therefore we should be shooting them, killing them or at best having nothing to do with them."
Johnson said she hopes the tragedy in Libya will help us "put behind the outmoded image of diplomats as striped-pants cookie pushers."
Diplomacy has always been politically fraught in a country founded on fears of foreign entanglements, a sentiment that rose to a fevered pitch during the Joseph McCarthy era, when American diplomats were investigated for suspected sympathies with the Soviet Union. The profession has carried personal risks for Foreign Service officers since William Palfrey, a former aide de camp to Gen. George Washington, who was lost at sea in 1780 while en route to serve to serve as America's consul general to France. The American Foreign Service Association keeps an online list of the names of U.S. diplomats killed in the line of duty. Generations of American diplomats during the 19th century were stricken down by cholera, yellow fever, and small pox serving the cause of diplomacy abroad.
While diplomats still succumb to the ravages of tropical disease, American and other Western diplomats have been targeted by terrorists since early 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy. That same year, America's ambassador to Kabul, Adolph Dubs, was assassinated -- the last ambassador (before this week's events) to die violently on the job. In October of last year, U.S. ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford was withdrawn from Syria on the grounds that it was too dangerous.
Even in Libya, which is a nominally pro-Western government, foreign diplomats have been the target of terrorist attacks since April, when armed groups exploded a roadside bomb alongside a convoy carrying the U.N.'s top representative, Ian Martin. In June, armed groups attacked a British convoy carrying Britain's ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith. The ambassador was unharmed, but two British guards were injured.
"I got the first attack on the international community back in April, but mine was only a little IED (Improvised Explosive Device)," said Martin, who headed the U.N. mission in East Timor during the violent siege of 1999.
Former U.S. diplomats say that the American public generally doesn't appreciate the risks diplomats face and the importance of their work in serving American interests. And they said diplomats like Stevens -- an Arabic speaker who arrived at his posting (via cargo ship) as a special envoy to the anti-Qaddafi insurgency in Benghazi.
"Chris Stevens, whom I knew, really represented the very best of the foreign service," said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel and founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "The capabilities of people like this is in the Foreign Service are precious for the country and they are not well understood or really appreciated."
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Last week, the foreign policy punditry, myself included, had declared the U.N. role in Syria all but dead.
But of course no U.N. diplomatic initiative ever truly dies.
Ban Ki-moon has vowed to conduct a global search for a new envoy to replace the joint U.N.- Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who announced he would step down later this month, saying it was impossible to compel the combatants in Syria to put down their guns while the Security Council's big powers squabbled over competing strategies.
France's top diplomat Laurent Fabius today announced he is organizing a Security Council meeting for foreign ministers on August 30 on the grounds that the 15-nation body "cannot remain silent in the face of the tragedy playing out in Syria," according to a statement released today by the French Foreign Ministry.
So, it should come as no shock to learn that the United Nations leadership is scrambling to convince the United States, Britain, and France, to allow the U.N. to maintain a presence in Syria after the mandate for the monitoring mission expires on August 19. The United States has argued that it's unconscionable for the U.N. monitors to remain in Syria to enforce a non-existent cease-fire agreement. They are like "sitting ducks," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told the council.
But the United Nations is reluctant to be seen abandoning the Syrians in their hour of need. The U.N. chief is expected to present the Security Council on August 16 with a plan to maintain a presence in Damascus beyond the end of the month.
Russia and China have called for keeping the U.N. mission in Syria as it is, saying it has kept the council informed about events on the ground and maintained an open line of communications with the warring factions. "Some useful work is being done by this mission," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador told reporters last week. "It's is not obvious at all what the strategy might be behind the call to terminate the mission.
Iran, meanwhile, appeared to be looking to the U.N. mission for help in securing the release of more than 40 Iranian hostages, though U.N. officials said the monitors were playing no such role.
Any new U.N. mission, which may or may not require a new Security Council mandate, would help coordinate the U.N.'s ongoing humanitarian activities in Syria, but more importantly, it would devote its attention to maintaining contact with combatants on both sides.
Responsibility for managing the mission may be transferred from the U.N. peacekeeping to the department of political affairs, which is headed by a former U.S. State Department official, Jeffrey Feltman.
The current chief of peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, signaled the U.N.'s intention to remain in Syria in a closed-door briefing to the Security Council last week. He said that the U.N. was still playing a role in aiding the efforts of U.N. relief organizations and that it was maintaining contacts with the key warring factions.
For the moment, the discussions about the fate of the mission have naturally been overtaken by events on the ground in Aleppo, where the Syrian government has launched a ground offensive aimed at rooting out rebel forces.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations, wrote in the Washington Post today that the U.N. would be needed in Syria once the fighting ends.
"Washington should remain open to an active U.N. role in finalizing a transitional road map once the conditions for a new order are in place," Khalilzad wrote in a piece that urged the United States to arm the rebels while encouraging a military coup. "The United Nations has played such a role in post-Taliban Afghanistan, among other places, where U.N. special representatives catalyzed a process to establish an interim regime, draft a constitution and hold elections."
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Who says the United States doesn't wield influence in the world?
With all the clamor about the limits of American power in shaping a tougher response in the Security Council to Syria's excesses, a couple of recent cases demonstrates that when the U.S. acts others follow suit, just not always the countries you would expect.
On Friday morning, July 27, the United States announced that it needed more time to consider the thorny details of the landmark arms trade treaty. The request, made on the last day of a nearly month-long session, effectively brought the process to a crushing halt. It also made it clear that the United States had no intention of negotiation the pact until next year, after the U.S. presidential election.
The action was criticized by America's allies and denounced by arms control activists as a monumental abdication of U.S. leadership on the world stage, one that threatened the fate of the first international treaty regulating the international sale of conventional weapons.
"This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International and formerly the Obama administration's deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
But for countries that were never enthusiastic about supporting a treaty that could potentially constrain their military exports, the U.S. move was a rallying cry. Before the day was out, Russia, China, India, and Indonesia had lined up squarely behind the United States.
But this isn't the kind of leadership the State Department likes to brag about.
After the conference ended without agreement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement that glossed over the role it played in the delay, saying simply that "more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue."
She said the United States still favored a U.N. arms treaty, but that negotiations would have to wait till next year, placing the politically charged issued off the table in the run up to the election.
"The illicit trafficking of conventional arms is an important national security concern for the United States.... The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement," Nuland said in a statement. "With that in mind, we will continue to work towards an Arms Trade Treaty that will contribute to international security, protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade, and meet the objectives and concerns that we have been articulating, including not infringing on the constitutional rights of our citizens to bear arms."
On another front, the United States clearly demonstrated the enduring power of America's example on the world stage.
For years, critics have accused the State Department of shielding the predominantly ethnic Tutsi Rwandan government from allegations that it had committed large-scale massacres of ethnic Hutus in Rwanda and eastern Congo following the 1994 genocide. The killings, according to human rights advocates and U.N. investigators, were in retaliation for the role of the Hutu-led government in the slaughter of more than 800,000 people.
In her book, Madame Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte said that State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre Prosper, tried to blackmail her into dropping an investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal into alleged crimes by Paul Kagame's forces.
Del Ponte claimed that Prosper, who is now advising Mitt Romney, pressed her to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing the Rwandan government to prosecute alleged war crimes against its own forces. When she refused, the United States launched a successful campaign to assign a new prosecutor to oversee the Rwandan war crimes.
The State Department, which has long shielded the Rwandan government from war crimes charges, announced that it was withdrawing $200,000 in funding for Rwanda, citing claims in a U.N. report that Rwandan has organized, armed, and funded a military rebellion in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Within days, Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany announced that they were planning, or at least considering, suspending funding for Rwanda's budget, citing its alleged support for the mutineers. Rwanda responded angrily, characterizing the aid cut as another example of Western paternalism. "This child-to-parent relationship has to end ... there has to be a minimum respect," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told business leaders in Kenya, according to a Reuters report. "As long as countries wave check books over our heads, we can never be equal."
For now, that reality is perhaps a small sign that the era of American world dominance has not entirely faded.
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The United States upended a major international treaty negotiation, telling foreign delegates at the final session today that they needed more time to consider the pact. Some diplomats said that Washington is seeking another six months, pushing off any decision on the politically sensitive treaty until after the U.S. election. Russia, Indonesia, and India also asked for more time.
Thomas Countryman, U.S. deputy secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, informed representatives of the U.N.'s 193 member states that the United States still needed time to consider the text.
Arms controls advocates expressed dismay over the American move, saying it could undercut momentum that has been building to establish the world's first international treaty government the export of weapons. Before the U.S. speech, they were convinced that the United States and other big powers were on board.
We are "extremely disappointed about this outcome," said Daryl Kimball, the director of the Arms Control Association. The failure of this treaty is "in large part due to the failure of leadership by President Obama."
"Today the U.S. did not grab the golden ring: an international arms treaty that would have bolstered our country's reputation as a elader on human rights," said Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor for Oxfam. "Moving forward, President Obama must show the political courage required to make a strong treaty that contains strong rules on human rights a reality."
The United States told delegates that it did not have "core" objections to the draft treaty under consideration, but that it needed more time, saying that while the U.N. negotiations have been playing out since July 2, they only received the final text in the past 24 hours.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations was preparing a statement.
Ever since the U.N. Security Council dispatched U.N. monitors to Syria to enforce Kofi Annan's wobbly cease-fire three months ago, the United States has repeatedly warned that it may pull them out if they were unable to advance Annan's six-point peace plan.
"No one should assume that the United States will agree to renew this mission at the end of 90 days," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said on April 21 after casting her vote to create the new mission. "If there is not a sustained cessation of violence, full freedom of movement for U.N. personnel and rapid meaningful progress on all other aspects of the six-point plan, then we must all conclude that this mission has run its course."
With the monitors mandate set to expire Friday, and a dramatic uptick in violence today, none of the conditions outlined by Rice have been met in Syria. And yet the United States and its European allies are seeking the adoption of a resolution as early as Wednesday afternoon that would renew the U.N. mission's mandate for at least another 45 days.
"Nobody really wants an abrupt shut down of the mission," said one U.N.-based diplomat, saying that Security Council members were searching for a plan to preserve the life of the mission for a few weeks if diplomatic efforts at the U.N. deadlocked. "We have always felt that the Americans don't have a Plan B" in the event that Annan's diplomatic track stalls.
Washington has calculated that it is worth giving Annan another shot to pursue a realigned diplomatic strategy that calls on the international community to apply greater pressure on the Syrian combatants to put down their arms, including through imposition of punitive measures. Following last week's killings in the town of Tremseh, Annan urged the council in a letter to "send a message to all that there will be consequences for non-compliance" with his peace plan.
The U.S.-backed resolution would change the configuration of the U.N. mission -- shifting its mission from monitoring the enforcement of a failed ceasefire agreement to prodding the two sides to agree to talks -- and it would threaten to impose sanctions on Syria within 10 days if the government failed to halt its shelling of residential towns and withdraw its heavy weapons from urban centers.
But Moscow has signaled that it will veto any resolution that threatens Damascus with sanctions, and accused the West of seeking to "blackmail" Russia by threatening to "refuse to extend the mandate of the observer mission" if it vetoes the West's sanctions resolution. Instead, Moscow has introduced its own draft resolution extending the life of Annan's diplomatic plan without any threat to punish those who violate its terms. Rice predicted Monday that Russia may not be able to secure the nine votes required for adoption of the resolution in the 15-nation council.
The diplomatic standoff heightened the possibility that both diplomatic initiatives may not survive the week, leaving the United States and its allies to judge where to bring a decisive end to Annan's plan or propose a technical extension to allow negotiations between the big powers to continue.
Earlier this week, Western diplomats were discussing the prospect of pressing for the adoption of a last minute, short resolution extending the mandate for 15 to 45 days, giving the big powers time to consider next steps. But Rice sounded a skeptical note.
By killing off the mission, the West could deprive Syria, and its Russian backers, of the fiction that diplomacy is advancing prospects for peace. But they would run the risk of being blamed for abandoning the Syrian people in their hour of need, and scrapping a mission that -- despite its shortcomings -- has provided the council with its clearest window into events unfolding on the ground.
So far, Washington's European allies appear reluctant to shut down a mission that while restricted has proven useful, providing the council with its only window into what is happening in Syria.
"The mission doesn't have a future in the long term without a clear ratcheting up of the pressure on the Syrian regime," acknowledged one senior European official. At the same time, the official conceded said there is little desire to shut down the mission abruptly. "We don't want to leave the Syrians without hope."
"We've been very practical about this from the outset," Rice told reporters on Monday, following a contentious Security Council meeting on Syria. "The mission is not an end in itself. It is a means to implement the Annan six-point plan, and regrettably, because there has never been a sustained cease-fire and never been a political process, there is no operative Annan plan to be implemented. So, the utility of [the observer mission] in that context has always been and remains quite questionable."
But another council diplomat said that it would be unwise not to "take Rice at her word.... I'm not sure the Americans think this mission is worth having."
"There is a sense that operationally the mission has run its course," said Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University Center for International Cooperation. "I think the Americans feel that the diplomatic track and the policy of maintaining council unity has essentially failed. The Russians either will not or cannot deliver meaningful changes by President [Bashar al] Assad."
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A proposal by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to convene a high-level meeting of key international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, June 30, to promote a political transition in Syria appeared to be stalled today over differences between the United States and Russia, according to council diplomats.
The United States objects to Annan's plan to invite Iran, a close supporter of the Syrian regime, while Russia has been unwilling to endorse Annan's plan for a political transition as a condition for participating in such a meeting. Annan's deputy, Nasser Al Kidwa, told the Security Council behind closed doors that Annan is nearing a decision on whether or not to host the meeting of key foreign ministers, according to a confidential account of the meeting.
"We are awaiting clarity today on whether there is sufficient substantive agreement as well as consensus on the scope of participation before the envoy decides whether the meeting should proceed on the 30th as planned," Al Kidwa told the 15-nation council, according to a copy of his statement.
Earlier this month, Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, proposed creating a "contact group" of key global and regional powers who could ratchet up pressure on the Syrian government and opposition to halt the violence there and begin talks on the country's political future. Annan is now referring to the proposed negotiating group as an "action group."
But the negotiations have bogged down over the question of Iran's attendance and over the degree to which the plan would lock President Bashar al-Assad into a process that would lead to his exit from power. Annan has tentatively penciled in a June 30 date for the meeting, but has yet to secure agreement from Russia and the United States to participate under his terms.
Over the weekend, Annan presented the permanent five members of the Security Council, including the United States and Russia, with a confidential "non-paper" that outlined the agenda for such a meeting, including the "guiding principles for a political transition" in Syria, according to U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats.
Al Kidwa outlined the basic elements of the plan to the full council in a closed-door meeting today. He said it would include agreement on "guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," read a copy of his confidential statement.
It would also "identify steps and measures" -- including an immediate cessation of violence -- "to secure full implementation" of Annan's six-point peace plan, Al Kidwa said. Finally, he said the plan calls for agreement on a series of "actions" to support Annan's mediation efforts in Syria.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council that Washington supports Annan's political roadmap. But Washington has continued to oppose a separate proposal by Annan to invite Iran, one of Syria's strongest backers, to participate in the meeting.
Russia favors Iran's participation but has also not agreed to the terms outlined in Annan's non-paper. Moscow's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has agreed to travel to Geneva for such a meeting.
Annan "is of course using his best efforts to facilitate a common position on the proposed outcomes of the action group," Al Kidwa said. "But he has also been steadfast in his resolve that an action group must be just that, and not a talking shop. The Joint Special envoy has made it clear that it is only worth holding this meeting on 30 June if the outcome is meaningful."
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With the United States and Russia still deadlocked at the United Nations over the best way to stem the violence in Syria, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stepped into the void again today, saying it's time for the United States to bypass the U.N. Security Council and assemble a coalition of military powers to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the killing of thousands of Syrians.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to commit to intervening militarily in Syria, preferring to support a U.N-brokered peace effort led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. But Annan's mediation effort stalled this week as an upsurge of violence forced a team of U.N. monitors to suspend their operations. The Security Council will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider next step from a slim menu of options.
Efforts by the United States and its European partners, meanwhile, to impose sanctions against Assad have run into opposition from Russia, which is reportedly sending a contingent of marines to the Russian-controlled port of Tartus in Syria.
McCain said it is unconscionable to allow Russia to veto concerted action against Assad, and recalled that President Bill Clinton overcame previous efforts by Russia to check American power, leading a NATO coalition against Yugoslavia in 1999 to end "ethnic cleansing" of the Kosovars by Serbian security forces.
"Rather than insisting that we cannot act militarily without a U.N. Security Council resolution ... we should follow President Clinton's example from Kosovo: we should refuse to give Russia and China veto power over our actions," McCain said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
McCain said that "many of our allies are willing to do much more but only if the United States is with them," he said. "We should make U.S. airpower available along with that of our allies as part of an international effort." It remains unclear whether many of America's allies would indeed be prepared to intervene militarily in Syria with or without a U.N. Security Council mandate.
McCain resurrected a proposal, previously floated by French and Turkish diplomats, to establish a series of safe havens along the border with Syria to channel humanitarian assistance to distressed Syrians. But those initiatives seemed half-hearted, and were subsequently withdrawn.
"These safe havens could become platforms for increased deliveries of food and medicine, communications equipment, doctors to treat the wounded, and other non lethal assistance; they could also serve as staging areas for armed opposition groups to receive battlefield intelligence, body armor and weapons -- from small arms and ammunition to antitank rockets -- and to train and organize themselves more effectively perhaps with foreign assistance."
There may be some support for such an initiative from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have already been supplying the rebels with weapons. But Russia has made it clear that anyone considering mounting a serious attack against the Syrian government may be playing with fire.
Anatoly Isaykin, the general director of Rosoboronexport, the state arms export agency, told the New York Times that it has supplied Syria with an advanced missile defense system that could shoot down planes or sink ships."This is not a threat, but whoever is planning an attack should think about this," he said.
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Kofi Annan, casting around for fresh ideas to stem the violence in Syria, last week proposed inviting Iran to join the United States, Russia, and other world and regional powers seeking to craft a plan for the country's political transition.
The initiative was quickly embraced by Moscow, which proposed hosting this "contact group" for an international conference, and was just as quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, which claimed that Tehran is part of the problem in Syria, not a reliable peace partner.
But why did Annan want Iran inside the peace tent while it is purportedly supporting the Syrian government crackdown, and what impact might Tehran's involvement have on the outcome of the Syrian crisis?
Annan's negotiating team has argued that it would be best to have Iran on its side, rather than seeking to undermine it. "Iran is a key player in this crisis and if you're going to have a group that talks about what can be done to pressure the parties in Syria then you can't neglect the fact that Iran has influence on the Syrian government," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told Turtle Bay.
The decision to try to include Iran was driven by an old-fashioned diplomatic dictum: you need to make peace with your enemy, not your friend. For Annan, that means inviting anyone with the power and influence to spoil the negotiating process into the peace camp, according to U.N. officials.
The United States -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has accepted the need to sit down at the table with the Iranians to address regional conflicts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. And U.S. policy makers have entertained talks with the Taliban to pave the way for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the prospects for talks in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election may prove awkward, particularly at a time when high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program appear stalled again. On Monday, the United States expressed its frustration by announcing yet another round of sanctions against Tehran. While the administration has not ruled out the possibility of an Iranian role in the Syrian peace process it has reacted coolly too it.
"There is no question that [Iran] is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday. "So we think Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution."
The United States and other critics say that Iran's interests run contrary to the U.N.'s goals and that Iran will not support a peace effort that threatens to jeopardize its own interests. "No country in the world stands to lose more from an Assad collapse than Iran. They would lose their only regional ally and their key thoroughfare to Hezbollah," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Iran's position on Syria is to publicly call for reform and conciliation, while privately financing and arming the Assads to the teeth."
"This is an exercise that is designed to avoid confrontation on everybody's part," Brett Schaefer, who tracks the U.N. for the Heritage Foundation, told Turtle Bay. "I think the Russians, the Chinese, and Iran are going to use every opportunity they can to extend this process out, and that a number of Western countries, including the United States, are willing to go along with this because they are unwilling to step outside the U.N.-centric approach."
For China and Russia, the fate of Syria is inextricably linked to that of Iran, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. They fear that the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad will embolden the West to step up pressure to topple the mullahs in Tehran.
"This is about the strategic position of China and Russia writ large," said Landis. "Syria is the canary in the mineshaft. If Syria is taken down, all eyes will turn to Iran."
By bringing Iran to the peace table, however, Russia would be reassuring Iran that its interests will be taken on board in any peace process. Richard Gowan, a scholar at New York University Center for International Cooperation, said that Annan is right to keep channels open to the Iranians, but that Annan has been too deferential to Syria's foreign backers.
"Annan had already made it known that he was talking to Iran on Syria: emphasizing Tehran's importance at this stage was a tactical public relations error,' he said. "It reinforced the impression that Annan is too reliant on Assad's friends in Moscow and Tehran," he told Turtle Bay. "Annan has arguably not been bold enough in challenging the regime's remaining friends."
For months, U.S. and European officials have accused Iran and Russia of supplying Damascus with weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have reportedly funneled arms to opposition fighters.
An April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan, and backed up by a team of about 300 U.N. monitors, is now in tatters. Syrian government forces continue to shell residential neighborhoods, while government-backed militia are suspected of carrying out mass killings in opposition towns. The Free Syrian Army, emboldened by fresh supplies of weapons, has vowed to fight on, saying the U.N.-brokered cease fire has been routinely violated by the government.
"Part of the problem with Syria is that both the Saudis and the Iranians see this as a proxy war for their relative regional ambitions and you can't have one in [the peace process] and the other out without creating a party motivated to subvert the concerted international action," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. expert at the Century Foundation.
For the United States, sitting down with the Iranians on an election year "is politically awkward, but a wider war around Syria is also a problem. It's not very palatable to Washington but sometimes you swallow hard in order to get a job done."
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They are called the S-5, or the Small Five, a group of small and middling U.N. member states that have been informally meeting since 2005 to try and chip away at the unchecked powers of the P-5, the U.N.'s dominant, permanent five members of the Security Council.
And they are heading for a confrontation next week with the five big powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- over an initiative in the General Assembly aimed at pressing the P-5 to voluntarily cede some of their powers.
On May 16, the S-5 will press for a vote on a resolution before the U.N. General Assembly that calls on the veto wielding powers to refrain "from using a veto to block council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity." It also requests that in cases where a permanent member ignored the General Assembly's advice and exercises its veto, it should at least explain why it did so.
The push for a vote comes at a time when the U.N. Security Council has faced criticism for acting too slowly to contain the escalating violence, and in the wake of two key powers, Russia and China, having cast vetoes twice to block an Arab League initiative aimed at ending the violence in Syria and that would force President Bashar al-Assad from power. Russia, which has argued that its diplomatic strategy stands a better chance of lessening the violence, has been among the sharpest critics of theS-5 initiative, characterizing it as an affront to Moscow, according to a senior diplomat involved in the negotiations.
The veto power has long been a source of resentment among the U.N.'s broader membership, who believe that it places the big powers above the law, shielding them and their friends from the edicts they routinely enforce on the rest of the world.
But for the United States, Russia, and other big powers, the veto represents the most important check on international intrusion into their spheres of influence by a sometimes unsympathetic majority. The United States, for instance, has routinely used its veto power to shield Israel from Security Council measures demanding it show greater restraint in its dealings with the Palestinians. China and Russia, meanwhile, have exercised the veto to block condemnation of friendly countries, including Myanmar and Zimbabwe, from condemnation for committing rights abuses.
A number of economic heavyweights and emerging powers, including Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, Nigeria, and South Africa, have been clamoring for a greater say in the council's deliberations, leading to several proposals that would expand the 15-nation Security Council and grant a number of rising powers a permanent seat.
The S-5 -- Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland -- realize that they have no hope of ever becoming big powers with permanent seats on the council. So they have devoted their efforts to pushing for reforms in the way the 15-nation council does business. Indeed, their recommendations on the use of the veto are a part of a broader menu of suggestions, including more P-5 consultations with states that aren't serving in the Security Council, that they intend to put before the General Assembly as a way to encourage reforms in the way the council works.
The sponsors say they are confident that they will have support from more than 100 of the assembly's 193 member states. But the P-5 have made it clear they want nothing to do with it, arguing that the U.N. Charter intended the victorious powers of World War II to manage threats to international security. While the vote would not be legally binding it could serve to ramp up political pressure on the big powers to change.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United States, and top diplomats from Britain, China, France, and Russia met with the S-5 on Wednesday in an effort to get them to back down.
Rice also pointed out that there were many other countries, not only the P-5, that have expressed opposition to a General Assembly vote. Another bloc of countries, known as the Uniting for Consensus group, which includes countries like Italy, Pakistan, and Argentina, also oppose a vote -- saying that it would distract from efforts to negotiate an enlargement of the Security Council.
Rice, who did most of the talking, told the group that while they recognize their pioneering effort to reform the council, their resolution would actually undercut the efforts to make the council more transparent. Rice asked them not go ahead with the resolution, according to Paul Seger, Switzerland's U.N. ambassador.
"They tell us don't put that resolution to a vote; it's infringing on the prerogatives of the Security Council, it's disruptive and could jeopardize the overall reform of the Security Council," Seger told Turtle Bay. "My sense is that they are afraid that certain prerogatives, certain acquired rights, are being questioned for the first time."
Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's U.N. ambassador, told Turtle Bay that the U.N. Security Council has undertaken many of the reforms being sought by the S-5, but their decision to bring the matter before the General Assembly would likely result in a "divisive vote that sets back the overall cause of reform."
"The Security Council must be always able to adapt and operate with flexibility in order fulfill its responsibilities under the Charter to meet the evolving challenges to international peace and security," he added in a statement. "But for that effectiveness and adaptability, it needs to be confident in its own decisions and procedures. It ultimately must remain the master of its own rules of procedure, as stated in the U.N. Charter."
Seger and other members of the S-5 say they are not looking for a fight -- but they also say it's unfair for the Security Council to ask other states to send their peacekeepers into harm's way, as Switzerland has in Syria, without including them in informal council deliberations on the situation there. The group, meanwhile, has marshaled a series of legal and political arguments to bolster its case that the majority of U.N. membership should have some role in advising the 15-nation council. They invoked Article 10 of the U.N. Charter, which permits the U.N. General Assembly to make recommendations to the Security Council, except in cases where the council is managing an international "dispute or situation."
Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, told Turtle Bay that there is also a legal case to be made that the U.N. Charter itself places limits on the rights of the council's permanent members to veto council action aimed at preventing mass killings. He argued that while the council bears "primary responsibility" for the maintenance of peace and security it also requires decisions be made in "conformity with the principle of justice and international law." Genocide and mass slaughter, he said, are certainly not in conformity with those principles, he said.
"We don't want to go up against the P-5," Seger added. "We don't question the right of the veto we only ask them kindly: Would you consider not using the veto in situations of atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide?"
Seger, who also serves as chairman of the U.N. peace-building commission for Burundi, recalled an invitation to brief the Security Council on a visit he had made to that Central African country.. He briefed the council on his findings, and then was asked to leave as the council went behind closed doors for its own discussions on the matter.
"I asked Churkin, 'could I maybe just sit there, be a resource person?'" Seger said, referring to Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin. "He said, 'No. We cannot open the council consultations to outsiders: It's never been done and it will never be done in the future.'"
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Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.
Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration's press spokesman, Grenell's political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell's appointment and initially thought he'd been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.
But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives -- not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality -- a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell's political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign ... because he is openly gay!"
In a statement posted on Jennifer Rubin's Right Turn Blog, which broke the news, Grenell said he decided to resign because "my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He thanked Governor Romney "for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."
R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell made his decision because it is "best for the Romney campaign" if it was unfortunate that "the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric's national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail...."
"Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left," he said. "The Romney campaign has lost a well-known advocate of conservative ideas and a talented spokesman, and I am certain he will remain an active voice for a confident U.S. foreign policy."
Grenell is a well-known, if not terribly popular figure at the United Nations, where he served as spokesman for every one of President George W. Bush's U.N. envoys, including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad. The son of Christian missionaries from the Church of God, Grenell preferred the role of political enforcer to that of the foreign policy wonk, routinely accusing reporters of anti-Republican bias.
Grenell regarded his famously combative relationship with the press -- detailed in this Village Voice article -- as a badge of honor, and Bolton and other foreign policy conservatives rallied to his defense when his tweets -- he once accused Vice President Joe Biden of using botox -- raised questions about his judgment and maturity.
"During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances," Bolton said in a statement. The Washington Post reported that Bolton sought to persuade Grenell not to resign. Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, meanwhile, said "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill."
But Grenell's foreign policy tenure was not without controversy.
In February 2003, a Mexican reporter at the U.N. published a story claiming that Grenell had pushed Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to "hurry up" his remarks to the press so that Negroponte, who was waiting in the wings for a chance to address the media, could speak. "Who cares what Mexico has to say?" he reportedly said.
The report set off a diplomatic storm in Mexico, where it was widely reported, and Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico seeking the country's backing for the Iraq war, had to smooth things over with the Mexican envoy. At the time, there were rumors that the comments had been picked up on a reporter's tape recorder. But a recording never materialized, Grenell categorically denied it, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement defending him.
After leaving government, Grenell continued to monitor events at the U.N., tweeting and writing an occasional op-ed piece for Fox News or the Huffington Post that savaged Susan Rice's tenure at the United Nations and mocked the press as going to soft on her. "If she won't voluntarily resign then she should be fired," he wrote in one Fox News op-ed.
He even found time to take an occasional pot shot at me. After I retweeted a story by my colleague Glenn Kessler taking issue with Romney's characterization of Russia as America's principal geostrategic foe, Grenell fired back with a tweet comparing us to Sergeant Shultz in the 1960's sitcom Hogan's Heroes, and linking to a YouTube video with him relaying his classic line "I know nothing."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the U.N. Security Council establish a full-fledged U.N. monitoring mission for Syria with an initial 300 unarmed blue berets, backed by air transport, and with the authority to carry out unimpeded investigations into possible cease-fire violations by the Syrian government or armed opposition.
The new mission would be deployed within weeks after the 15-nation council adopts a resolution creating the new mission, which would be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNMIS). Ban suggested that the mission might need to be enlarged and that he would come back to the council within 90 days with a new plan to "further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work."
"It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties," Ban wrote of the new mission. His 8-page report was distributed to the Security Council tonight and will be made public shortly. Security Council diplomats say they hope a resolution can be voted on by early next week.
The report provides a mixed account of the security conditions on the ground since the U.N. deployed its first monitors three days ago in Syria, noting that "it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria."
Ban wrote that "levels of violence dropped markedly" in Syria since April 12, when a U.N.-brokered cease fire went into effect, "however, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete."
The reports say that the U.N. monitors had been initially blocked from visiting the town of Homs, but that they were granted "freedom of movement" during a visit to Deraa on Tuesday, where they found no evidence of armed violence or heavy weapons. Visits to three other towns, including Jobar, Zamalka, and Arbeen in Rif Damascus revealed continuing military presence at multiple checkpoints, as well as an armored personnel carried hidden under a plastic sheet.
The report also documented an incident in Arbeen that ended in violence.
"The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident."
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Full text of Ban Ki-moon's letter to the U.N. Security Council:
18 April 2012
Her Excellency/Ms. Susan Rice/President of the Security Council/New York
1. Further to operative paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 2042 (2012), and to the briefing of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, to the Security Council on 12 April 2012, I wish to outline a proposal for a United Nations supervision mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for an initial period of three months. I recommend that the Council authorize such a mission, with the understanding that I will consider relevant developments on the ground, including the consolidation of the cessation of the violence, to decide on deployments.
2. The protracted crisis in Syria over the past 13 months has seen many thousands killed, injured, detained or displaced. The violence has been characterized by use of heavy weapons in civilian areas and widespread violations of human rights, while aspirations for political change in the country have not been met. I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country. However, without under-estimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build.
3. On 25 March 2012, the Syrian Government committed to an initial six-point plan proposed by the Joint Special Envoy, which has the full support of the Security Council. This plan includes provisions for immediate steps by the Syrian Government, and a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, it requires the Syrian government immediately to cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres and to begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
It also requires a range of other steps by the Syrian Government to alleviate the crisis, including humanitarian access, access to and release of detainees, access and freedom of movement for journalists, and freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully. The plan embodies the need for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
4. On 11 April 2012, the Syrian Government stated it would cease all military operations throughout the entire country, and similar commitments were obtained from the armed opposition. Accordingly, for the first time in over one year, a cessation of violence was declared and went into effect across Syria at 0600 hours on 12 April 2012. This was an important step by all parties in de-escalating the situation. It now must be effectively sustained.
5. The engagement of many states with influence on the parties was and remains critical to furthering this process. The Security Council has spoken with one voice through its presidential statements of 3 August, 21 March and 5 April and resolution 2042 of 14 April. The Council's continued unity is also of critical importance in seeking a pacific settlement of the crisis.
Developments since 12 April
6. Given the lack of presence on the ground other than the first members of the Advance Team who arrived three days ago, it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria. Nevertheless, it appears that levels of violence dropped markedly on 12 April and the following days, with a concomitant decrease in reports of casualties. However, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete. At the same time, in accordance with their acceptance of the six-point plan, the parties have continued to express their commitment to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and have agreed to cooperate with a United Nations supervision mechanism to observe and strengthen both sides commitment to a cessation.
7. The advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers authorized by the Security Council in paragraph 7 of resolution 2042 (2012) began to deploy on 16 April 2012. It has commenced liaison with the parties and is beginning to report on the cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties. This team is led by a Colonel and will be swiftly augmented by the necessary mission support personnel, including ordnance experts and United Nations security officers.
8. The team visited Deraa on 17 April 2012. During its two to three hour presence in the city, it enjoyed freedom of movement. It observed no armed violence or heavy weapons in the city. It observed no major military concentrations, but several points were occupied at section level, and buses and trucks with soldiers were dispersed throughout the city. The team visited Jobar, Zamalka and Arbeen in Rif Damascus today. It reported military presence at checkpoints and around some public squares and buildings in all three locations. In Arbeen, one armoured personnel carrier was hidden, covered by a plastic sheet. The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident. The team expects to visit Rif Daraa tomorrow. The team's initial request to visit Homs was not granted, with officials claiming security concerns.
9. Action on other aspects of the six-point plan remains partial, and, while difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities. Regarding the right to protest peacefully, numerous demonstrations were organized on 13 April after Friday prayers, one day after the date of the cessation of violence. Reports issued by local opposition groups suggest that these were met with a more restrained response than in previous incidents of protest, but there were nevertheless attempts to intimidate protesters, including reports of incidents of rifle fire by government troops. On detainees, on 5 April the International Committee for the Red Cross announced that it had agreed with the Syrian Government on procedures for visits to places of detention and that this would be put into practice with a visit to Aleppo prison. However, the status and circumstances of thousands of detainees across the country remains unclear and there continue to be concerning reports of significant abuses. There has been no significant release of detainees. On 12 April the Syrian Government said entry visas were granted to "53 Arab and foreign journalists" between 25 March and 12 April. We have no further information on this. All journalists must have full freedom of movement throughout the country.
10. Meanwhile, on the issue of humanitarian access, while the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) needs assessment report identified one million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, no substantive progress has been achieved over the last weeks of negotiations on access to those in need, or in increasing the capacity of organizations on the ground.
11. Developments since 12 April underline the importance of sending a clear message to the authorities that a cessation of armed violence must be respected in full, and that action is needed on all aspects of the six-point plan. Actions on the ground must be consistent with stated commitments to carry out the six-point plan. At the same time, the very fragility of the situation underscores the importance of putting in place arrangements that can allow impartial supervision and monitoring. A United Nations monitoring mission deployed quickly when the conditions are conducive with a clear mandate, the requisite capacities, and the appropriate conditions of operation would greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and to supporting the implementation of the six-point plan.
12. An expanded mission, UNSMIS, would comprise an initial deployment of up to 300 United Nations Military Observers. They would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties. It would be headed by a Chief Military Observer at the rank of Major-General. UNSMIS would additionally comprise substantive and mission support personnel with a range of skills, including advisors with political, human rights, civil affairs, public information, public security, gender and other expertise. These elements would be essential to ensure comprehensive monitoring of and support to the parties for the full implementation of the six-point plan. Given the size of the country and the challenges on the ground, the mission would need to maximize the effectiveness of its supervision and observation responsibilities with effective informational awareness and information management so that it uses its resources effectively. UNSMIS would be funded through the peacekeeping account.
13. Consistent with paragraph 5 of resolution 2042, UNSMIS should monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the Joint Special Envoy's six-point proposal. Regarding a cessation of armed violence, it should be noted that the Syrian Government's full implementation and adherence to its obligations to cease troop movements towards population centres, cease all use of heavy weapons in population centres, and begin the pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres are critical, and that the withdrawal of all troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks is important to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence. Equally, all parties, including both the Government and the opposition, must sustain a cessation of armed violence in all its forms. These will be the areas of monitoring by the military observers who, in the course of their duties to supervise the cessation of violence, will pay due regard to other aspects of the six-point-plan.
14. In this regard, it should also be noted that human rights abuses have characterized much of the fighting over the past thirteen months, and that any cessation of armed violence must necessarily encompass a cessation of such abuses, including torture, arbitrary detentions, abductions, sexual violence and other abuses against women, children and minorities. The free movement of journalists throughout the country and the respect of freedom of association and the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed will also be critical. The release of persons arbitrarily detained is a key commitment of the Government under the six point plan that would provide a significant signal of the serious intent of the Government effectively to implement the plan in its entirety and create the conditions for a political solution through peaceful dialogue.
15. UNSMIS would not be involved in the delivery, coordination, and monitoring of humanitarian assistance. The coordination of humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of the Emergency Relief Coordinator. It should be noted in this regard that all parties, particularly the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, must allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all people in need and to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the swift provision of humanitarian assistance.
16. A supervision mission that has the capacity, through military observers and civilian personnel, to monitor and support a cessation of violence in all its forms and the implementation of the remaining aspects of the six-point plan could help create the conditions for a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. Such a supervision mission would be important to sustain peace and a meaningful political process in the country. This would provide important support for the Joint Special Envoy's efforts to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and brings about a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
17. In committing to the six-point plan, the Government of Syria has indicated its consent to an effective UN supervision mechanism. As of 18 April, discussions with the Government of Syria on preliminary understandings to provide the basis for a protocol governing the deployment of the Advance Team and of a UN supervision mission made progress and are continuing. Other parties to the conflict have indicated their readiness to work with a mission. It is essential in this regard that the actions of the Government in particular are in full conformity with its commitment and with the fundamental principles necessary to enable an effective mission as embodied in resolution 2042. As called for by resolution 2042, it is incumbent upon the Government of Syria to facilitate the expeditious and unhindered deployment of personnel and capabilities of the mission as required to fulfil its mandate; to ensure its full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access as necessary to fulfil its mandate; allow its unobstructed communications; and allow it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with the mission. The Syrian authorities have the primary responsibility for the safety of the mission, which should be guaranteed by all parties without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access. This freedom of movement will need to be supported by appropriate air transport assets to ensure mobility and capacity to react quickly to reported incidents. Consultations have taken place to explain these principles to the Government of Syria, including fundamental principles of UN peacekeeping regarding selection of personnel.
18. I will seek to conclude with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic an agreement concerning the status of UNSMIS within 30 days of the adoption of the resolution establishing UNSMIS, taking into consideration General Assembly resolution 58/82 on the scope of legal protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. In accordance with the customary practice of the United Nations, pending the conclusion of such an agreement, the model status-of-forces agreement dated 9 October 1990 (A/45/594) shall apply provisionally.
19. Member States, in particular the neighboring States, should assist the Advance Team and UNSMIS by ensuring the free, unhindered and expeditious movement to and from the Syrian Arab Republic of all personnel, as well as equipment, provisions, supplies and other goods, including vehicles and spare parts.
20. The mandate and operational posture of the mission proposed herein, including its deployment and structure, would establish an effective observer mission, with the configuration and functions described above. I would intend to further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work based on the initial deployment, the evolution of conditions on the ground, and engagements with all relevant parties. Proposals in this regard would be contained in a report to the Security Council as soon as practicable but not more than 90 days after the establishment of UNSMIS.
21. I should be grateful if you could bring this letter urgently to the attention of the members of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country.
Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, has been pleading for several months to be allowed into the country to determine the extent of the country's humanitarian crisis. She renewed the request on Friday, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asked her to travel to Syria to assess the situation.
The move come as the Syrian government has stepped up its violent crackdown against demonstrators and opposition groups, shelling restive towns, in particular Homs, in a brutal campaign aimed at crushing resistance.
"I am deeply disappointed that I have not been able to visit Syria, despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence," said Amos, who is traveling in the region.
Last week, a U.N. commission of inquiry ruled that top Syrian officials committed "widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity," and need to be held accountable for their actions.
Amos said that the government's refusal to approve humanitarian assistance "prolongs" the suffering of Syrians and that the U.N. stands ready to help get assistance to those in need -- once the governments permits it.
The violence has driven up to 200,000 people from their homes, and forced another 25,000 to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to U.N. estimates. "Given the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with an increasing need for medical assistance, food and basic supplies, improving access, so that assistance can reach those in urgent need, is a matter of the highest priority."
The effort to get relief into Syria comes as the death toll has been steadily rising, with the U.N. announcing Tuesday that more than 7,500 people have died since the government launched a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators back in March 2011.
"The Syrian government has manifestly failed to carry out its responsibility to protect its people," B. Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. undersecretary for political affairs told the Security Council on Tuesday. "On the contrary, it has subjected residents in several cities to indiscriminate bombardment by tank and rocket fire, killing its own people in ways reminiscent of the Hama massacre perpetrated by the Syrian government in 1982."
"Unfortunately," Pascoe added, "the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians."
Pascoe said that Syrian security forces "launched a merciless bombardment of residential areas in Homs" on Feb. 26. "We are now into the fourth week of the terrible attacks on major neighborhoods in this city. The situation for the people trapped inside them is increasingly dire. According to human rights organizations, more than 5,000 civilians have been prevented from fleeing by government forces."
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who was named as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy for Syria, is scheduled to arrive in New York today for several days of talks. He will address reporters along with Ban this evening.
Diplomats say that Annan will try to secure a commitment to travel to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and to persuade him to accept an Arab League proposal for a political transition.
The United States, meanwhile, has "drafted an outline for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand access for humanitarian aid workers in besieged towns," Reuters reported.
Security Council diplomats, however, said that it is unlikely the 15-nation council will begin serious discussions on the resolution until after the Russian presidential election on March 4. Russia has already vetoed two resolutions condemning Syria's crackdown, and has refused to permit any outside role that doesn't come with the backing of the Syrian government. As yet, there has been no discussion in New York about a controversial plan, initially raised by France, to establish humanitarian corridors in Syria along its borders with Turkey and Jordan.
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She called him duplicitous.
He said she needed to watch her "expletives" and behave a bit more Victorian.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, have been slinging insults at each other as their governments have sharply diverged over crises from Libya to Syria.
So what does Rice really think of her big power sparring partner?
"Look, we've had a little fun," she said, recalling how she once projected an image of Churkin's face inside the head of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas character on the wall of the Security Council. "On a personal level, I think I am not ashamed to say [we] have a lot of fun together. We fight, we laugh and sometime we're in agreement and sometimes we're not."
In recent weeks, the American and Russian envoys have mostly been fighting over their sharply diverging approaches to Syria, where the U.S. is supporting an Arab plan to nudge President Bashar al-Assad from power, and Russia is backing its own competing initiative that would preserve a role for the Syrian leader in any political settlement.
On Monday night, Foreign Policy's editor in chief, Susan Glasser, AfPak channel editor Peter Bergen and I sat down with Ambassador Rice at an event organized by the New America Foundation to discuss her views on her Russian counterpart, Russia and China's double veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria this past weekend, and her prospects for becoming the countries next U.S. secretary of state -- if President Barack Obama wins reelection.
Here we've compiled a few highlights from the event, starting with a replay of some of the diplomatic wrangling that proceeded Russia and China's historic double veto, which killed off a Western- and Arab-backed resolution condemning Syria's repression of demonstrators and endorsing an Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria.
Rice maintained that the there was a moment when it looked like the council had secured agreement during "roller-coaster" negotiations, only to see China and Russia backtrack. "I thought at a few points it was doomed to fail but "we ultimately…hammered out what we thought was a compromise that could be sold in everybody's capitals. We were careful in how we framed that with the press. It was something literally all of us needed to send back for guidance…we all hoped we might be in a position to get a yes after that."
That was not to happen.
Russia's foreign ministry declared the draft unacceptable on Friday morning, privately informing their counterparts that they would propose some amendments. But Moscow only formally presented the amendments to the council as it prepared to hold a scheduled vote on its resolution. A last minute meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich on the sidelines of a security conference failed to close the gap. "The amendments that were tabled were widely viewed as not only too late but wrecking amendments, amendments that would have gutted the heart of the resolution," said Rice. "It was clear at that stage that we were at an impasse and it I was equally clear that with the killing intensifying on the ground and reaching the horrific levels that it did on Saturday that there was no way the council was going to do as the Russians had sought which was too delay this vote."
But even in the minutes leading up to the vote, representatives from key Arab and Islamic governments, including Egypt and Pakistan, made their final effort to lessen the blow, pressing China to break ranks with the Russians, according to Rice."Just before the vote, a throng of Arab ambassadors encircled the Chinese ambassador, [Li Baodong], and were pleading with him not to stand with the Russians in vetoing the resolution."
Ambassador Churkin recently told me that as a Russian diplomat it is not easy to ditch close allies, and that Moscow was more loyal to its friends than others. Many in the international community, he said, appreciated Russia's stance. But Rice contended that Russia and China will pay a steep political price for its decision to block the Arab League initiative. "I think you've heard the prime minister of Qatar [Hamad bin Jassim and [Arab League Secretary General Nabil] Elaraby both speak of the damage that they believe Russia has done in vetoing the resolution potentially perhaps, probably giving Assad a license to kill," said Rice. "I do think that when the dust settles and when there's a democratic government in Syria they will not forget recent history anymore than the Libyans have forgotten recent history. It will be a very different landscape that the Russians and Chinese are looking at and they may look back on this…as something they wish they could take back."
"This was the Arab members all together coming to the Security Council for something quite specific, it wasn't the use of force it wasn't sanctions, it was blessing a political transition and I think we certainly thought that was an initiative that was worthy of strong international support and U.S. support in the council," said Rice. "The fact that it was blocked by an ever more isolated Russia and China may in the short term serve to embolden Assad but I think over the…middle to long term will in fact weaken him and embolden the region to stand ever stronger in favor of their goal which is a democratic transition."
In defending its decision to cast a veto, Russia has maintained that it had acted to halt the West from using the Security Council, as it had in Libya, to bring about regime change in Syria. Churkin contends that the West abuses the Security Council in Libya by using a resolution crafted to protect civilians to overthrow an internationally recognized government. Rice disputed that claim.
"First of all, using Libya as an excuse to do the wrong thing on Syria is completely disingenuous. We made very, very clear -- I made very, very clear -- in laying out to the Security Council what this authority would entail. The protection of civilians, as mandated and drafted, in what became Resolution 1973, was going to involve air strikes against [Muammar] Qaddafi's command and control centers, air strikes against moving columns, air strikes against any asset of the regime that would threaten civilians. We discussed this at great detail and we, in fact, debated language that laid all of that out in great specificity so that countries could not claim that they didn't know exactly what they were granting when passing that resolution," said Rice. "We wanted the council to make a clear eyed decision. If they hadn't supported this it wouldn't have happened…But in voting for it, or not opposing it, the council gave a clear-cut green light. Now there may be some cynical folks who say that perhaps the Russians and the Chinese were trying to give the coalition -- NATO, and Western and Arab powers -- enough room to hang themselves and they're frustrated that that wasn't exactly the outcome. I don't know. But I do know it was very clear what they were voting for and the outcome was one that was potentially foreseen ... although I understand that you have to be somewhat nuanced to see it. But the resolution and the actions of NATO really were genuinely to protect civilians, they were not designed for regime change…What transpired was that, in addition to the NATO air campaign to protect civilians, [there was] growth and transformation of the opposition. They cohered ultimately into a sufficiently capable multi-front force to ultimately topple Qaddafi."
The U.S.-Russian rift over Syria has drawn some comparisons in Washington to the diplomatic paralysis that plagued U.N. diplomacy at the height of the Cold War. Rice challenged that comparison, saying that while the two powers different sharply over important issues, they have worked closely on a range of others. "I don't think…the difficulties we have had in the wake of the Libya vote are necessarily indicative of a return to the Cold War. In so many ways we're past that. In my three years, the council has passed very important and broad-reaching sanctions against Iran [and North Korea]. We have together supported the emergence of an independent South Sudan. We have without rancor or difficulty backed important U.N. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq [among many other issues]. There are going to be issues that are difficult. We've had our share of those of late and they…divide us and even get rancorous. But I don't think is a fair characterization of the body of work that we've been doing over the last several years and I expect will be doing going forward."
Speaking of issues that divide, I asked Rice about the prospects that the Security Council could be used to rally greater economic pressure on Iran. I told Rice that I'd recently asked Churkin if he would consider new sanctions against Tehran and he said: "No chance, no chance, no chance…ever." Asked if Churkin is right, Rice said that it may be difficult to reach agreement. She explained that Russia and China, frustrated that they had imposed U.N. sanctions, were infuriated that the United States and Europe followed up with their own sanctions that in some case harmed their own commercial interests.
"There is a certain logic to their point of view," Rice said."We don't agree with it. But there saying ‘why should we adopt strong sanctions in the council, agree to adhere to them, only to be hit upside the head with a bunch of national measures that we didn't subscribe to? How many times are we going to play this game?'"
So have U.N. sanctions against Iran run their course?
"Never say never," Rice said. "But I would say, barring something unforeseen, I think it will be a little while before there is an appetite for further action" at the United Nations.
Finally, Rice was asked if Obama wins reelection, should we expect to see her serving as his new secretary of state? She said: "I love my job and I think the only person who can answer that question is President Obama. I will do what I am asked to do or what I'm not asked to do. So, we'll see. But it has been an enormous privilege and a whole lot of fun to serve again and to serve at the United Nations, which is never dull and I feel very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.