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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As the U.N. Security Council weighs its reaction to North Korea's third and largest nuclear test, leader Kim Jong Un's government gave diplomats in New York something new to chew on.
Speaking at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, the North Korean official Jon Yong Ryong warned the gathering of international diplomats that his government was prepared to take action against South Korea.
"As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction," he said.
The remarks came on a day when South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak delivered his farewell address to the nation he will cease leading on Monday, when a new South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye, will take up the reins of power. Clearly, the North Korean leadership was hoping to see him off with a final goodbye kick on his way out.
But it was the second time in a week that North Korea has threatened military action, raising concerns in New York that Pyongyang is eager to stay on a path of confrontation for a bit longer. Last week, the North Korean government issued a similar statement warning the United States that it was prepared to take action if Washington pursues further steps to rein in its activities.
"If the United States makes the situation complicated by remaining hostile through the end we will have no choice but to take serial measures with more intense second and third response," the statement warned. It added that the interdiction of North Korean vessels "will be instantly regarded as an act of war and will lead to our relentless retaliatory strikes on their bases."
Last week, Reuters reported that North Korea has informed China, its most important ally, that is is preparing for a new round of missile launches or nuclear tests. The move suggested that Kim Jong Un, far from looking for a way to lower the temperature, was turning up the furnace.
But to what end?
North Korea's threats are unlikely to soften the Western response to its nuclear test. On Monday, the European Union agreed to impose a new round of sanctions aimed at further isolating North Korea from the international financial and banking communities.
Perhaps North Korea is hoping to scare China into blocking a new round of more intrusive U.N. financial and diplomatic sanctions being pressed by the United States and its Asian and European allies. In their preliminary discussion with Security Council colleagues, Chinese diplomats have urged their Western partners not to overact to the North Korean action. But some officials say that China, infuriated by North Korean's refusal to heed its calls for restraint, is now prepared to inflict some pain on its troublesome neighbor.
Some U.N. diplomats said they believe that North Korea is simply trying to strengthen its hand in its dealing with the United States.
"When a mischievous boy wants to get a girl's attention he will pull her pigtail," said one Asian diplomat who follows the issue. The main goal of the tough talk, the official said, is to scare the United States into re-engaging with North Korea. "I think the new leadership wants to show the Americans that they are capable of escalating."
George Lopez, a former member of a U.N. Security Council panel monitoring sanctions on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, said Pyongyang's threats follow the usual pattern: "lots of bombast, lots of defiance, and then a moment of calm when they say let's talk."
But he said the world is confronting a country with a renewed level of self-confidence, brought on by a pair of highly successful ballistic missile and nuclear tests, within a very short time frame. "I don't treat this as bluster. They want to make a definitive statement that we are a power that needs to be dealt with," Lopez said.
"The United States is going to say we've been here before, but North Korea wants to present itself as having risen to a qualitatively different stage" in its military status.
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The U.N. Security Council this morning issued a statement that "strongly condemns" North Korea's detonation of nuclear explosives as a "grave threat" to world peace and pledged to immediately start negotiations on a legally binding Security Council resolution that would impose unspecified new measures against Pyongyang.
The council statement was read out by South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, whose government is serving as the Security Council's president for the month of February. Speaking on behalf of his country, Kim said the "nuclear test poses a direct challenge to the whole international community" and that Pyonygang "will be held responsible for any consequences of this provocative act."
The 15-nation council's action set the stage for another high-level U.S.-led effort to convince China to support a tougher Security Council resolution on Pyongyang's provocation. Western governments were hopeful that North Korea's open defiance of its powerful benefactor in Beijing would support fresh penalties against its leadership.
The blast on Monday comes about two months after Pyongyang launched a satellite into space in violation of U.N. resolutions and just weeks after the Security Council adopted a resolution expanding the list of North Korean individuals and companies subject to U.N. sanctions. Before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who negotiated that resolution with the Chinese, sounded an exasperated note as she prepared for a new round of negotiations. "We'll do the usual drill," said Rice.
Following today's meeting, Rice said the United States would seek to "augment" the range of financial and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang. "The Security Council must and will deliver a swift, credible and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of [North Korea's] nuclear and ballistic missile programs."
Rice recalled that the Security Council had previously warned North Korea that it would undertake "significant action" against Pyongyang in the event of another nuclear or ballistic missile test "and indeed we will do so."
Any action in the council will require the backing of China, which has the power to veto any Security Council decisions. It remain unclear how far Beijing was prepared to go in punishing its neighbor. China issued a statement that reiterated its previous call on North Korea "not to take any further actions that would worsen the situation" and counseling caution by Western powers not to overreact.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, also denounced North Korea, telling the Security Council: "I strongly condemn Pyongyang's reckless act, which shows outright disregard for the repeated call of the international community to refrain from further provocative measures. The test is a clear and grave violation of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council."
"I am profoundly concerned about the negative impact of this act on regional stability. It is deplorable that Pyongyang has chosen the path of defiance," Ban added.
"This third nuclear test by Pyongyang is a serious challenge to global efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. The DPRK is the only country that has carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century. The authorities in Pyongyang should not be under any illusion that nuclear weapons will enhance their security. To the contrary, as Pyongyang pursues nuclear weapons, it will suffer only greater insecurity and isolation."
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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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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a reputation for diplomatic sparring. Her battles with the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and the French ambassador, Gerard Araud, have been epic.
But Rice has generally held her punches in negotiations with Li Baodong, China's reserved, formal, U.N. envoy -- a man who has shown little taste for the diplomatic joust.
That is, until now. Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea's missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea's surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang's action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that "undermines regional stability."
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
"That's ridiculous," Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
"Ridiculous?" a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. "You better watch your language."
"Well, it's in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin -- if he were in the room -- he would know how to take it," retorted Rice.
The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin's riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making "bogus claims" about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," said Churkin to Rice. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?" said Churkin, mocking Rice's alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.
Today, however, Li countered that Rice's remarks were consistent with an American foreign policy approach that seeks to impose its will on other states.
In the end, however, Rice and her council allies were able to secure a clear condemnation of Pyongyang, though they dropped the provision suggesting the test has undermined regional stability. A Security Council statement condemned the missile launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests. The council took note that it threatened last April to take action against North Korea if it launched further tests, and it vowed to "continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The United States, working with Japan and South Korea, is expected to lead efforts in the coming weeks to forge a tougher council reaction, preferably a resolution imposing sanctions. But they are expected to encounter tough resistance from China, which indicated it was not prepared to support a confrontational resolution penalizing Pyongyang, according to council diplomats.
And the man Rice will have to persuade to impose the council's will on North Korea is her new sparring partner, Li Baodong.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Today's big Syria headline from Beijing: China unveils new 4-point peace initiative to end country's civil war.
The Chinese plan is, in a nutshell, a few bits and pieces borrowed from pre-existing Arab League and U.N. peace initiatives -- i.e, a phased region-by-region ceasefire, a political transition, and stepped up humanitarian relief. There's not a lot new here. And the irony is that these initiatives have, in the past, failed to gain momentum, in part, because China joined Russia in vetoing three resolutions promoting similar plans.
"A political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, according to Xinhua, which outlined Beijing's big idea:
First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.
Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria's governmental institutions must be maintained.
Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi's mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers' meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan's six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.
Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.
So, what are we to make of China's peace initiative?
Does it mark a turning point in its commitment to see the 18-month civil war brought to an end? Or an admission, perhaps, that Beijing is growing weary of its Syrian ally's refusal to halt a ruthlessly disproportionate response to its armed opponents, at the cost of thousands of civilian lives?
Or is this what a government does when a prominent international envoy -- in this case U.N.-Arab League Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, shows up at your door to press you to knuckle down on a recalcitrant friend? So is this just what Beijing scrapped together to appear that it's seriously invested in making peace?
Through most of the Syrian conflict, China has largely sought to avoid drawing much attention to itself, offering few ideas to resolve the crisis in closed-door Security Council consultations, while sticking to stock government talking points in public statements about the need to resolve the crisis peacefully while respecting Syria's sovereignty.
It's worth noting that while China is a major power, it's a bit player on Syria, taking its cue from Russia, which has been reluctant to ratchet up pressure on Bashar al-Assad to yield power to Syria's opposition forces. But Beijing has occasionally raised its profile -- it previously sent a high-level delegation to Middle East capitols to explain and defend its decision to veto Arab-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria - to avoid a political backlash against Chinese interests in the region.
It's probably useful that Beijing be seen backing Brahimi's mediation effort. And there is a curiously specific, though vague, call for a phased ceasefire in the proposal. But a close look at China's plan reveals that Beijing is largely restating positions previously agreed to by the international community -- including Kofi Annan's six-point plan and the Geneva Communiqué -- backed by the U.N.'s five big powers.
The Chinese plan also sidesteps controversial matters, like the fate of Assad at the end of a political transition. And there was little in China's statement that echoed Brahimi's call in Moscow earlier this week for "a real transition, not cosmetic reforms" in Syria. One Security Council diplomat dismissed the Chinese initiative as containing the same fatal flaw as its long-standing stance on Syria -- it's unwilling to apply pressure on Damascus to halt the killing.
Meanwhile, the Syrians haven't been able to get through Eid al-Adha, the Muslim religious holiday, without killing one another. "The government made the announcement that they were going to stop firing during the Eid period," Brahimi said in Moscow on Monday. Quite a few of the opposition groups did the same. Now each side is accusing the other side of having broken this ceasefire. The result is that there was no pause and the people of Syria haven't spent quiet days during the Eid."
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The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, have toiled in the cause of peace in Syria this year. So it's perhaps not a surprise that they would be nominated for an international peace prize. But this is one award they will not likely be bragging about if they win.
"It's not like you would campaign for this," quipped one U.N. official. "At least I hope no one is campaigning for this."
The organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize this weekend announced the nomination of the U.N. luminaries, along with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and several others for a prize that awarded last year to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- in recognition of his opposition to the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, and which praised his military campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia.
"These were righteous wars," the Confucius Peace Prize committee co-founder and president, Qiao Damo, told the New York Times last year. Human rights advocates have differed, accusing Putin's forces and proxies of engaging in large-scale rights abuses.
The Chinese prize was established as Beijing's answer to the decision to honor Liu Xiaobo, the jailed pro-democracy dissident, in 2010 with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The selection of Liu infuriated the Chinese government, and prompted a Chinese banker, Liu Zhiqin, to propose that China establish the Confucius Peace Prize to counteract what he characterized as the West's anti-Chinese bias and to highlight China's "views on peace and human rights."
"The Nobel Peace prize won Liu Xiaobo while losing the trust of 1.3 billion Chinese people," Liu Zhiqin wrote in a November 2010 opinion piece. "They support a criminal while creating 1.3 billion 'dissidents' that are dissatisfied with the Nobel Committee, which is definitely a bad decision."
The effort to establish the prize's legitimacy has been rocky.
The committee's first award recipient, Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician who promoted improved ties between China and Taiwan, did not show up at the awards ceremony, saying he'd never heard of the award, and even Putin's press office told reporters they didn't know much about the report, according to the New York Times.
The Chinese government meanwhile criticized the committee organizers for suggesting they were linked to the Chinese Ministry of Culture. But the prize lives on.
This year' s other nominees include Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Chinese social activist Wang Dingguo, Peking University Prof. Tang Yijie, Chinese rice researcher Yuan Longping.
A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said that any decision on whether Ban or Annan would accept the prize, if awarded, is hypothetical since the winner has not been announced. But he says that secretaries general frequently do accept awards on the behalf of the United Nations, donating cash awards to humanitarian causes.
But Ban and Annan still face stiff competition from another nominee -- China's choice to inherit the title of Tibet's spiritual leader, known as the 11th Panchen Lama, when the current Dalai Lama dies. The Dalai Lama anointed another heir back in 1995, a six-year old boy who was subsequently taken into "protective custody" by the Chinese government and never seen in public again.
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At Turtle Bay, three times is not the charm. Today, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of U.N. diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 15,000 dead and brought the country to the brink of a full-fledged civil war.
The action dealt a potential blow to U.N. Arab League emissary Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan and cast doubts that Moscow and Beijing are prepared to apply pressure on Damascus to meet its commitments to constrain its troops. The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 11 for and 2 against, with two countries, Pakistan and South Africa, abstaining.
After the vote, the council's Western powers lambasted Russia and China for casting their third veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad to curtail its violent crackdown, initially on civilians and more recently on armed opposition groups.
"The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year. This is another dark day in Turtle Bay," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the 15-nation council after the vote. "This is the third time in 10 months that two members have prevented the Security Council from responding with credibility to the Syrian conflict. The first two vetoes were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable."
Rice said she was troubled by fate of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, saying the possibility that Syria might use "chemical weapons against its own people should be a concern for us all." These weapons, she said, "must remain secure and the regime held accountable for their use."
said the United States would no longer "pin its policy" on unarmed U.N.
observers lacking even "minimal support" from the Security Council, but would
work with a diverse coalition of countries outside the council to "bring
pressure to bear" on the Syrian regime.
But there were indications that the West was unprepared to abruptly withdraw the monitors from Syria. Britain circulated a short resolution that would extend the mandate of the mission for 30 days. Rice said that the United States "might be prepared" to support the British draft to allow a "safe and orderly withdrawal of U.N. monitors from Syria over the next month."
Still, the standoff in the Security Council raised doubts about the long term future of the U.N. mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at Friday midnight, and which has been severely restricted in its efforts to enforce a broken cease-fire agreement. In a press conference, Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said that "it pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that."
Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, defended his country's decision to veto the U.S.-backed resolution, saying it was "biased" in that it threatened only the Syrian government with U.N. sanctions, while doing nothing to constrained an armed opposition movement that has carried out a series of ever more violent attacks against government targets, including a devastating strike on Tuesday that reached into the heart of Assad's national security leadership.
Churkin claimed that the Western approach is designed to "fan the flames" of violence in Syria, pursuing their own "geopolitical ambitions in the region and paving the way for the military push to remove Assad from power. He said Russia "simply cannot accept" a resolution threatening sanctions and foreign military involvement. Rice and other Western diplomats denied categorically that the resolution would pave the way to military action.
China's U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, reacted angrily to assertion by the United States and its European allies that it was shielding the Syrian regime and undercutting prospects for peace. "They are completely wrong," he said. He accused the Westerns sponsors of the resolution of pursuing "a rigid and arrogant approach" to the negotiations on the approach to Syria, refusing repeated efforts by China and other countries to negotiate amendments into the Western draft.
Kofi Annan's spokesman issued a statement saying that he was "disappointed that at this critical stage the U.N. Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped force."
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Last week, I asked a U.N. Security Council diplomat to give me a read out of China's reaction to the Houla massacre of 108 civilians during a closed-door session of the 15-nation council.
The diplomat paused for a moment, then confessed to being totally unable to recall what was said.
It was probably something about the need to pursue a peaceful outcome to the conflict and the importance of respecting sovereignty and letting the Syrians work it out themselves, the diplomat surmised. The same thing, in other words, that China says about virtually every crisis that comes before the Security Council.
China has largely weathered the Syrian diplomatic crisis, which has brought it into direct conflict with the Arab world, by drawing as little attention to itself as possible and letting Russia take the heat for sheltering President Bashar al-Assad from Security Council pressure.
But the effort to remain under the radar will be tested this month as China begins its month-long stint as Security Council president, a role that began Monday with an obligatory council presidency press conference that focused mostly on Syria.
In the briefing, China's U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, expressed concern about this "horrible thing" that happened in Houla, assured reporters that China has no "intention to protect anybody" in Damascus, and said the perpetrators, whomever they may be, need to be held accountable.
But when pressed about next steps in the council, Li quickly returned to script.
"We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and also we respect the choices made by Syrian people," he told reporters. "What we really want to see is that the sovereignty of that country can be safeguarded and the destiny of that country should be in the hands of the people of Syria."
Translation: The Security Council should keep its meddling in Syria to a minimum, resist U.S. and European calls for the imposition of U.N. sanctions, and set aside more time for special envoy Kofi Annan to convince the Syrian government and the opposition to start talks on the country's future. "We have to line up behind Kofi Annan," Li said.
In February, China joined Russia for the second time in vetoing a resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on demonstrators. The resolution, which was backed by the Arab League, also demanded that the Syrian government begin negotiations on a transitional government.
China faced intense criticism in the Arab world in the weeks after the veto, prompting Li to undertake a high-level visit to the region to explain China's position in the council and try to sooth Arab leaders' anger, according to council diplomats. Still, the anger has focused most sharply on Russia, and the launch of Annan's mediation effort has provided Beijing with an opportunity to throw its weight behind a diplomatic initiative with solid backing from the Arab League.
But with the Annan plan on the ropes and China, alongside Russia, standing in the way of tougher Security Council action, it is going to be increasingly difficult for Beijing to continue to keep its head down and avoid damage to its diplomatic standing in the region.
"I think China's reputational damage in the region, so far, has been limited,' said Salman Shaikh, a former U.N. official who serves as director of the Brookings Doha Center. "In economic terms, its trading volumes continue to rise and will do so markedly over the next decade or so. Its relations with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] are now strategic.... It is difficult to say how damage is being done with regard to Arab public opinion. While Chinese flags are being burned regularly in Syria, the rest of the Arab street, I believe, is focused on Russia. For now, at least, Moscow is deflecting serious Arab public wrath."
But Syria still poses a long-term challenge for Chinese policymakers, who desperately want the crisis to end peacefully but are at a loss about how to promote a workable alternative in the event that the Annan plan unravels. "There is also something deeper at play here," Shaikh added. "China has struggled to find a narrative that fits with the Arab Awakenings. The so-called ‘Chinese Model' of economic reform but not political opening -- which has been stressed by fallen Arab dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and now by President Assad in Syria -- no longer fits with the desires of Arabs who also want political change and democratic political systems. For this reason, China will continue to tread wearily."
Indeed, the crisis has caused increasing concern in Beijing, which is worried about its long-term relations with Persian Gulf sheikdoms that have rallied against Assad as part of a broader push to counter the influence of their prime regional rival and Damascus's chief ally, Iran.
American and European policymakers have tried to play on this very anxiety by pushing China to break ranks with Russia, which has deeper economic, military, and intelligence ties with Syria.
Back in April, "there was a glimmer of hope among Western diplomats that China could be persuaded to change positions," said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. "The reality is that the Chinese gain far more in terms of diplomatic tactics by staying closer to the Russians," particularly on Iran, which has become more vital to Beijing than it is to Moscow because of China's energy needs.
"If the Russians are worried about losing Chinese support on Syria, the Chinese are worried about losing Russian support on Iran," Gowan explained. "There is a sort of Chinese fear that if they were to make a shift on Syria the Russians would undercut them on Iran. The two powers are locked together in the face of Western criticism on both issues."
Indeed, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to increase their cooperation at the United Nations during a summit meeting in Beijing on Tuesday. "Both sides oppose external intervention into the Syrian situation and oppose regime change by force," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters earlier in the day.
For China and Russia, the best way to prevent those scenarios is to keep the Annan plan alive.
"What happened in Houla is definitely a setback for the effort to solve the crisis in Syria and it has caused colossal damage to Kofi Annan's mediation effort," said China's U.N. envoy, Li Baodong. "What should we do? Should we back off? Or should we surge ahead, march on? We have no choice. We have to support him."
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Every several months, a U.N. Panel of Experts issues a report documenting Sudan's extensive violations of U.N. Security Council sanctions in Darfur, and pleads with the council's big powers to use their influence to persuade Khartoum and anti-government rebel groups to comply.
And every time, their appeals for backup are largely ignored, especially by China and Russia, which supply Khartoum with some of the arms and firepower that fuel Darfur's fighting, and which have routinely refused to fully cooperate with the panel's experts as they seek to trace the origins of prohibited weapons from factories in China and Russia.
Three former panel members, Claudio Gramizzi of Italy, Michael Lewis of Britain, and Jerome Tubiana of France, recently produced an unofficial report arguing that the international commitment to sanctions had eroded so much that even the United Nations itself was flouting the sanctions, facilitating the travel of a rebel field commander, Jibril Abdul Kareem, nicknamed "Tek," who was subject to a Security Council travel ban, to peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
The Tek episode is simply one nugget buried away in a confidential 80-plus page report, first reported by Africa Confidential, that documents systematic violations of a six-year-old U.N. arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze, imposed on Khartoum and rebel leaders in an effort to contain the violence in Sudanese province.
But the episode provides a depressing illustration of how an initiative that once enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the council's major Western powers -- the United States, Britain, and France -- has become such a low priority that few key players in the region take it seriously anymore.
The Security Council first imposed an arms embargo on armed groups in Darfur in 2004, and expanded it the following year to include the government. The council also slapped a travel ban and an asset freeze on the leaders of both pro-government and anti-government armed groups in Darfur, including the government backed militia known as the Janjaweed, which gained international notoriety for its scorched earth raids, conducted on camels and backed by Sudanese air power, against countless Darfurian villages.
The measures were designed to curtail a massive wave of violence -- that ultimately led to the death of at least 300,000 people and the displacement of many times that number -- and to constrain the Sudanese government from carrying out mass murder in Darfur.
The report's three authors resigned late last summer over a dispute with the panel's Indian coordinator, who produced a competing official report. The panel, they wrote, "suffered from a major dissension" within the ranks. The coordinator, they complained, had insisted that each of the panel's five members conduct their work independently without coordinating or sharing information, a policy they believed undermined the panel's effectiveness. But officials familiar with the dispute said the difference ran much deeper, reflecting a lack of faith in the integrity and competence of the panel's leadership. Eric Reeves, a Smith College literature professor and Sudan activist, has written his own take on the report, highlighting the dissidents' far more critical account of the human rights situation in Darfur than the authors of the official U.N. report.
The Security Council's enthusiasm for the U.N. panel's work waned years ago, according to experts. In 2009, Enrico Carisch, a former head of the sanctions panel, testified before Congress that the Security Council had failed to act on more than 100 panel recommendations aimed at strengthening the sanctions. He also faulted the United States, France, and Britain for doing little to force a more public debate.
Carisch, currently an independent consultant who trains U.N. panel experts, told Turtle Bay that the dissidents' decision to produce a "shadow" report highlighted some of the institutional weakness of the U.N. sanctions system. At the same time, he said their breadth of the findings highlight the value of their work. "The powerful evidence reported by these experts demonstrates how skillful and sustained sanctions monitoring is important to shine a light into the darkest corners of conflict areas," Carisch said.
The dissidents' expert report assails Khartoum for systematically violating the arms embargo, thwarting efforts of U.N. experts to enforce sanctions, and conducting ethnic cleansing against the Zaghawa tribe. It documents Sudan's use of use of Chinese small-caliber ammunition, Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters, Ukrainian tanks, and Belarussian Sukhoi-25 fighter jets
But it also provides a devastating account of the U.N. panels' own efforts to monitor and enforce the U.N. sanctions. Indeed, the report challenges much of the underlying evidence used to justify sanctions against "Tek" and two other rebel leaders, Adam Yaqub and Musa Hilal, the latter a notorious Janjaweed leader. The reports, produced by a previous team of U.N. panel experts, were riddled with inaccuracies, including misspelled names and unsupportable claims. For instance, the report notes that there may have been ample evidence that Hilal commanded militia engaged in widespread atrocities in his stronghold in north Darfur. But it also expressed serious doubts that he was responsible for the crime the U.N. panel attributed to him to justify sanctions.
In April 2006, the U.N. panel accused Hilal of leading a Sept. 28, 2005, militia raid on the West Darfur villages of Acho, Aro Sharrow, and Gozmena, to seek revenge for the death of one of his sons who was purportedly killed by a rebel movement linked to the towns. The dissidents' report, however, said Hilal did not lead West Darfur's militias and that "it is unproved and unlikely that Musa Hilal was responsible and/or present" at the scene of the raids. The report also said it found no evidence that Hilal's son had been killed.
While the dissidents questioned the justification for Jibril's designation on the sanctions list they also argued that the U.N. still has an obligation to enforce those measures. But on July 20, 2010, Jibril traveled to Qatar with a travel document -- known as a laissez passer -- issued by the deputy chief of staff of the United Nations-African Union Joint Mediation Support Team(JMST). The visit, which lasted a year, was part of a Qatari-led mediation effort to broker a peace settlement between Khartoum and several Darfuri rebel groups.
The dissident panel members said the U.N. violation of sanctions in this instance was unnecessary. A provision in the six-year-old sanctions resolution -- Resolution 1591 -- includes an exemption allowing travel for sanctioned individuals participating in peace initiatives. However, the exemption can only be approved by the Security Council committee that oversees sanctions.
"The members of the panel are unaware of any request by the JSMT or from UNAMID [The U.N. African Union Mission in Darfur] to the sanctions committee for permission to issue this document or to authorize the travel of Tek by air to Qatar," the report states. "Jibril ‘Tek's' presence in Doha represents a case of violation of the sanctions regime."
But the larger issue, according to the dissidents, is what the episode says about the U.N.'s ability and commitment to apply its own sanctions fairly and with conviction. "Should access to Darfur, and more generally cooperation from member states, United Nations and African Union bodies working in or on Darfur, as well as the general ability of the panel to provide accurate justifications for individual sanctions and monitor them, not increase in the future, the very existence of both the panel and the sanctions mechanism should be seriously reconsidered."
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Syria's decision today to hold its fire may prove yet short-lived, confirming critics' contention that President Bashar al-Assad simply cannot be trusted to fulfill his commitments.
But for one brief instance, Syria's action helped to turn the narrative on its head, providing a rare opportunity for Damascus and its closest friends to make the case that a consensual, softball approach to the crisis could bear fruit.
China's U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, who has scarcely uttered a word in public on the Syrian crisis, stepped out before the Security Council stakeout today to claim credit, in Mandarin and English, for his government's role in pursuing a cease-fire. In a lengthy exchange with reporters, he pointed out that special envoy Kofi Annan had "spoken highly" of China's role in backing his mediation efforts.
Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that today's development vindicated his government's much-maligned stance on Syria and that the world should recognize Moscow was right. He said that top Russian diplomats, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, had intervened at critical moments in the diplomatic process to help Annan secure Syria's support for his plan, and that its contribution had been unfairly dismissed by the press. "You should give us credit; we have every right to be given credit," Churkin said.
Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar al-Jaafari, said that the world's recognition of its decision to stop shooting only provided further evidence that it is Syria alone that has pursued peace in good faith, while its critics -- from Washington to Istanbul to Riyadh -- have been seeking to "torpedo" Annan's peace efforts by providing support to opposition military forces. While most observers agreed that the cease-fire was largely holding, both Damascus and the opposition accused the other of some violations.
"The credibility of the Syrian government has been confirmed," Jaafari told reporters. "There are still some officials who are totally disappointed and frustrated ... because the cessation of violence succeeded this morning."
The effort to secure plaudits for pursuing a political settlement contrasts with the blocking role these governments have played in recent months in downplaying and minimizing the brutality of Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters, a campaign of violence that has left more than 9000 dead, mostly of them unarmed civilians, during the past 13 months.
In a closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council, Annan reminded the council's 15 members that he personally visited a refugee camp this week in Turkey, which absorbed a flood of more than 6,000 Syrian refugees during the past five days, victims of a government assault on Syrian towns.
"As of this afternoon, as of this moment, the situation looks calmer. We are following it very closely," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva today. "The world is watching, however, with skeptical eyes since many promises previously made by the government of Syria had not been kept. The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds at this time."
But while Ban cautioned that a single gunshot could unravel the cease-fire, pitching the country into an even more deadly civil war, he made it clear that the world's key powers would now have to approach the conflict in a new way, and would now be required to apply pressure on the opposition to make compromises in a diplomatic process that places Assad's government at the center of action.
"Today's lessening of violence in Syria is a first, fragile step towards peace that needs to be strengthened and sustained," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "The Syrian government has a record of failing to keep its promises. It has the opportunity to change that now: it should seize it. We need to see visible, verifiable, and indisputable signs of change. The opposition must also ensure that they adhere to the cease-fire and work to strengthen and broaden it."
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Add another name to Syria's growing enemies list: Barbara Walters.
Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari, denounced the ABC broadcaster's handling of a prime time interview she conducted with President Bashar al-Assad, the first by an American television journalist since public protests began threatening the Syrian leader's rule.
"She distorted the truth," he told reporters outside the Security Council late on Monday. "We gave her the opportunity to interview the president for 59 minutes and she aired only 20 minutes." Walters, he protested, edited out "all the positive answers."
The blast against Walters came on a day when Syria faced mounting international pressure to halt its crackdown on protesters. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused the Syrian government of deliberately killing and torturing thousands of civilians during the anti government protests.
The confidential briefing, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, alleged that Syrian authorities have killed more than 5,000 civilians, military defectors, and security agents that have refused orders to kill civilians.
"The situation is intolerable," she said. "The nature and scale of abuses committed by Syrian forces since March indicate that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed."
In response, Jaafari lashed out at Pillay, saying the high commissioner for human rights had violated "the honor of her office" by meddling in the internal affairs of a U.N. member state, and relying on accounts of military defectors. "Mrs. Pillay ... is not objective, she is not fair ... she has trespassed her mandate, she allowed herself to be misused."
The exchange capped a day of recriminations and finger pointing in the Security Council. Jaafari said his country was a victim of a "huge conspiracy" concocted by the United States, Europe's former colonial powers, Israel, and the armed Syrian opposition forces fighting the government.
Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin partly agreed, saying that the Western powers are seeking to topple Assad's government.
"We think this is very dangerous," Churkin said. "They make no secret of the fact that they want regime change." Churkin also accused his Western partners of trying to bully him into rejecting a proposal by China to have Pillay expand the briefing to cover human rights abuses in Palestinian territories. "I saw every trick in the book thrown at me short of trying to strangulate the president of the council," Churkin said.
U.S. and European diplomats denied that they tried to block a discussion of Palestinian rights, which they characterized as a cynical attempt by Syria's defenders to detract attention from Damascus's conduct -- which one U.N. diplomat characterized as "the most horrifying briefing that we've had in the Security Council over the last two years."
"We find it unconscionable that the Security Council has not spoken out on this issue in recent months given everything that has happened," said Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. "We really need to see the Security Council on the right side of history here, to stand with the Syrian people."
Privately, council diplomats noted that China and Russia, which have traditionally resisted discussions of human rights in the Security Council, have never before asked for a briefing by the human rights chief on Palestine, or on any other human rights crisis.
"This is a complete red herring," said Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
"This was a very transparent ploy by those countries that did not want to hear Ms. Pillay's briefing on Syria. There has never been a request for her to come and brief on Palestine before," he added. "Indeed, the newfound enthusiasm on the part of some of our colleagues who have traditionally opposed any briefing by the high commissioner for human rights in the Security Council seems now to have ended, and I would certainly anticipate that Ms. Pillay will be invited a number of times back to the Security Council to brief on human rights in a number of places across the world in the future."
While the heated diplomatic rhetoric in the Security Council probably served to keep the public conversation on Syria alive, it did little to break the diplomatic logjam in the council on a way forward.
While the U.N. Security Council in August adopted a non-binding statement condemning Syria's repression, it has not been able to apply further pressure on Syria. China and Russia vetoed a U.S.- and European-backed resolution that would have threatened possible sanctions against Syria.
The prospects for a breakthrough now rest in the hands of the Arab League, which has imposed its own set of sanctions on Syria, and which will be holding a series of meetings with European governments to determine if it will back a Security Council resolution on Syria -- a move that would raise the political costs of another veto. "We are in regular consultations with the Arab ambassadors here in New York, as are our capitals with Arab capitals in the region and in the light of those decisions that they take over the next few days we shall certainly consider when, and how, and in what terms to come back to the Security Council," said Lyall Grant.
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Micah Zenko, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy and a fellow for conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations criticized the NATO-led military campaign against Libya's former leader on the grounds that it violated the U.N. Security Council's mandate authorizing the use of force for the narrow purpose of protecting civilians.
The West's overreach, he argued in an opinion piece in The National, has contributed to stalemate in the U.N. Security Council over Syria, where the Chinese and Russians cast a double veto to block a resolution which threatened to consider sanctions, but not military force, if Damascus didn't halt a bloody crackdown that has lead to the death of nearly 3,000 civilians.
"The endorsement of the Security Council proved essential to the legitimisation of the NATO-led intervention in Libya's civil war. However, several countries openly violated the resolutions, adopting a much more active role and presence in the conflict by arming the rebels, providing military training and placing forward air controllers on the ground to call in air support," Micah writes. "As a result of these blatant violations, the U.N. has been unwilling to endorse intervention in Syria to stop the government-sanctioned violence against peaceful protesters. In June, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delayed a Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, stating he would not support 'a dead ringer for Resolution 1973,' which he believed had been 'turned into a scrap of paper to cover up a pointless military operation.' On October 4 Russia and China vetoed a sanctions resolution."
It's certainly true that NATO military support for Libya's rebel movement, which has now become Libya's transitional government, has figured prominently in the debate in the U.N. Security Council. China, Russia, Brazil, India, and South Africa, which supported the decision to use force in Libya, have all cited NATO's use of force to help topple the regime as a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Resolution 1973, in defending their refusal, or at least reluctance, to impose harsh new measures against Syria. But was it decisive?
Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch took issue with Zenko's argument on Twitter, tweeting that it's "true that Russia, China, others upset over expanded NATO mission in Libya, but they would have vetoed Syria action anyway." Lynch added: "I'm not saying that Libya precedent didn't matter at all, but more as an excuse for veto than a reason."
For his part, Zenko tweeted: "Strategic interests matters, as does precedence. If US, Russia, or China misuses UNSC it's wrong. We should consistently say so." He added: "And I think it's wrong to imply that the misuse of 1970 + 1973 for regime change had no impact on double-veto."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor at Princeton University and the former director of policy planning for the State Department, tweeted that, over time, the precedent of using force to halt mass atrocities would prevail. "Libya precedent will ultimately box Russia & China in more than it will give them excuses for inaction," she wrote.
I tend to agree that the Libya precedent was not decisive in influencing China's and Russia's decisions to block the Syria resolution, and more likely reflected an assessment that Assad's regime would survive. I suspect the two countries, particularly China and Russia, would have been inclined to veto the Libya force measure, Resolution 1973, instead of abstaining, if it hadn't had the support of the region's key regional groups, the African Union and the Arab League.
In the case of Syria, the U.N. Security Council's lone Arab country, Lebanon, was not prepared to challenge its powerful neighbor, providing cover for a Russian and Chinese veto. If the West can once again muster regional support for their Middle East initiatives in the Security Council, which is far from certain, they may see a more agreeable Russian and Chinese response.
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Russia and China today cast a rare double veto to block a U.S. and European-backed draft resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown on protesters, exposing the first major rift in the U.N. Security Council over its response to the wave of popular uprisings that has spread across North Africa and the Middle East.
The draft garnered a paltry 9 votes in the 15-member council, the bare minimum required for adoption of a resolution, as Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa expressed their unease with the Western press for sanctions by abstaining on the vote.
The Russian and Chinese actions marked the defeat of months of European-led diplomatic efforts to impose sanctions on Damascus for unleashing a violent response to the demonstrations. Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Al Jafaari, reacted to the veto with a smile, and later thanked the "voices of the wise" on the council who confronted what he characterized as the colonial and military aspirations of a bloc of Western powers that is "doomed to failure."
Speaking after the vote, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and China's U.N. ambassador, Li Boadong, expressed concern that the resolution would serve to exacerbate tensions in Syria and could serve as a pretext for possible regime change.
Churkin blasted the Western initiative as reflecting a "philosophy of confrontation" with Syria that would undermine any efforts to pursue a political settlement between the government and the opposition.
The vote triggered an angry reaction from Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, and France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, who vowed that this "veto will not stop us" from continuing to press for the Bashar al-Assad government to end a crackdown that has killed nearly 3,000 people.
"The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security," said Rice, expressing unusual emotion. "Several members have sought for weeks to weaken and strip bare any text that would have defended the lives of innocent civilians from Assad's brutality."
Rice said that the council's split provided a stark illustration of which countries supported the aspirations of pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and the rest of the Arab world. "During this season of change, the people of the Middle East can now see clearly which nations have chosen to ignore their calls for democracy and instead prop up desperate, cruel dictators," she said. "Let there be no doubt: this is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people."
The clash comes weeks after the U.N. Security Council reached agreement on a statement, generally considered less forceful than a resolution, condemning Syria's conduct.
The council's European members had initially pressed for a resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and targeted President Assad and more than 20 of his closest associates with a series of sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on financial assets.
The watered-down draft resolution blocked by Russia and China today "strongly condemned the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities." It accused the regime of carrying out "arbitrary executions," torture, and enforced disappearances to end the protests.
The resolution demanded that the Syrian government immediately "cease the use of force against civilians," release political prisoners and detained protesters, and grant a range of other "fundamental freedoms" to its people. Had the resolution passed, it would have stipulated that had Syria failed to comply with the demands, within 30 days the council would have met to consider "other options" against Syria, a veiled reference to sanctions.
But the compromise was not enough to thwart the Russian veto, according to diplomats.
It was the first time one of the council's five veto-wielding powers has cast a no vote since February, when the Obama administration blocked a Palestinian-backed draft resolution denouncing Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to the Middle East peace process. It was also the first time China and Russia have cast a joint veto since July 2008, when they both vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning Zimbabwe's human rights record.
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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today dismissed a U.S.-backed European effort to adopt a U.N. resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters as a meaningless gesture, saying "it is not enough to pass non-binding measures wagging a finger at Damascus."
The Florida Republican said the United Nations must "impose strong sanctions on Damascus" in response to its "nuclear intransigence, its gross human rights abuses, its longstanding development of unconventional and ballistic missile capabilities, and its support for violent extremists."
"A non-binding measure will fail to compel the regime to change its behavior," she added. "Responsible nations must develop, implement, and enforce stronger sanctions, in the Security Council and beyond, in order to meet this goal."
It is true that a European draft Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, contains no specific threat to punish Syria with sanctions or military force, though it does call on states to prevent Syria from trading in weapons. But is it the toothless initiative she claims it is?
U.S. officials say that they have focused on imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria because the prospects for concerted U.N. action on that front is dim, given resistance from several council members: China, Russia, Lebanon, India, South Africa, and Brazil.
These governments see the European initiative to condemn Syria less as a feckless exercise than a potentially sinister first step in process that may exacerbate political tensions in the Middle East or lead to possible foreign intervention in Syria. Russia and China may be prepared to exercise their veto power to stop it.
"It could be misunderstood by destructive opposition forces in Syria who, as you know, declare they want regime change in Damascus," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin told Russian state television this week.
The reason that Moscow and Beijing are so alarmed about the draft is that experience at the United Nations demonstrates that once the Security Council makes a demand of a country, it frequently comes back to demand more if it is ignored.
On February 22, a week after Muammar al-Qaddafi ordered a bloody crackdown on Libyan demonstrators, the council adopted a "non-binding" presidential statement condemning Tripoli's action and demanding that it stop. Qaddafi ignored it.
Within a month, the Security Council had issued two legally binding, Chapter 7 enforcement resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya, launching an International Criminal Court prosecution, and authorizing military action against Qaddafi's forces. Clearly, the threshold for action is considerably higher in Syria, which still can count on support at the United Nations from Arab governments. But events on the ground, including fresh reports of government repression and the flight of Syrians into Turkey, could change governments' calculations.
Wide-ranging Security Council sanctions against Iran and North Korea also began with relatively mild non-binding statements demanding that Tehran and Pyongyang halt the development of their ballistic missile and nuclear programs. For the moment, the Security Council has yet to act on the International Atomic Energy Agency's determination that Syria was secretly developing a clandestine nuclear reactor before Israeli destroyed it in a September 2007 airstrike.
But U.S. and European governments will likely address Syria's nuclear ambitions after they finish the current push to censor their alleged political repression of civilians.
The draft resolution currently under consideration condemns Syria's "systematic violation" of human rights, "demands" an immediate end to the violence, and "unfettered" access to U.N. rights monitors and aid workers. It also calls on Syria to lift the siege on anti-government towns, implement democratic reforms, and cooperate with the U.N.
In some sense, the most important are a pair of provisions at the end of the draft that require the U.N. secretary-general to report on Syria's compliance with the council's demands within two weeks, and then again every month after, ensuring that the Security Council will have frequent opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. The council will, as they say in U.N. parlance, "remain actively seized of the matter."
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The White House today announced it would impose unilateral sanctions against Syria, signaling its desire to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al Assad to halt his crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. action drew rare praise from foreign policy conservatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who said the move "should mark the end of the failed policy of engagement and accommodation with Damascus."
But at the United Nations, the American delegation has been hesitant to press for an equally hard-line approach, fearing an aggressive push to penalize Syria in the U.N. Security Council might provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.
In late April, Chinese, Russian, Lebanese and other diplomats effectively blocked an effort by the Europeans to push through a mild, non-binding, Security Council statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown on mostly unarmed protesters.
The United States is concerned that another failed push for Security Council action on Syria would give comfort to President Assad, exposing the deep international rift over the right approach to restraining Syria.
In the absence of an American push, Britain and France have taken the lead in seeking a tougher approach. In recent days, the two European powers have sounded out other Security Council members about the prospects for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn Syria and urge it to halt further violence.
Britain and France are confident that they can muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a modest resolution that would condemn Syria, ask it to show restraint, and encourage political reform. Britain and France also believe it may be worth risking a Russian or Chinese veto, and exposing them as defenders of a brutal Middle East regime that is resistant to democratic change sweeping the region. "There is a real risk that the council, by failing to act, is sending the signal that what Assad is doing is within the bounds of international tolerance," said one council diplomat. "We need to change that."
The United Nations maintains that more than 850 people have been killed in Syria in recent months, most of them civilian targets of a bloody government crackdown. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has charged Assad with ignoring a recent call for restraint by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which condemned Syria's conduct
While the U.S. worries that forcing a losing vote may play to Assad's advantage, they are likely to support Britain and France if they decide to move ahead with a vote on a resolution, according to diplomats.
The deadlock over Syria contrasts starkly with the council's response to a Libyan crackdown on protesters in February. In a remarkable show of unity, the 15-nation council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose sanctions on President Moammar Qadaffi's regime, and authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into allegations that the regime committed crimes against humanity. On Monday, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested arrest warrants for President Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
But the unity has frayed since the council passed a subsequent resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians by a vote of only 10-0, with five abstentions. Since, then China, India, Russia, and other council members have accused the United States, Britain and France of exceeding the authority granted by the council to protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war.
The effort to squeeze Syria has also been complicated by the role of the council's lone Arab state Lebanon, which lead previous efforts at the United Nations to condemn Libya and to address allegations of government repression in Yemen. But Lebanon is unwilling to back any measures against Syria, which exerts enormous influence over Lebanese affairs. And there is no sign that other Arab governments will challenge Lebanon's approach.
The current dispute over Syria "is the hang over from Libya," one council diplomat told Turtle Bay. "China and Russia feel a bit betrayed because the coalition went further than what was in the resolution. It diminished the possibility of replicating the Libya model in Yemen and Syria," where Russia and China have blocked action.
"There is a negative vibe post-Libya in the council," the diplomat said. "you did this in Libya and now you're going to pay for it. It's a pity. There is this political game of power in the council while people are being hurt on the ground."
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Lebanon, Britain and France on Tuesday introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would grant sweeping authority to states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and use "all necessary measures," including military force, to protect civilians and grant access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, according to a confidential draft of the resolution obtained by Turtle Bay.
The draft would require states to notify U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before taking action to protection civilians. The initiative, which emphasizes the role of the Arab League in the effort, received a cool reception from several council members, including China, Russia, India, and Germany, which argued that they need to hear far more about the details of the plan before proceeding to a vote.
The draft resolution would also reinforce an arms embargo on Libya and tighten a travel ban and financial sanctions recently imposed on Muammar al-Qaddafi, his relatives, and other close associates. It also calls for the establishment of a panel of up to eight experts to monitor enforcement of the sanctions.
Lebanon's U.N. ambassador, Nawaf Salam, said tonight that his government, in cooperation with Libya's renegade U.N. mission, wrote the provisions in the draft establishing the no-fly zone, while Britain and France took the lead in drafting the provisions that call for "strengthening and widening of sanctions [recently] imposed on Libya." The sanctions provisions are considered far less controversial than the no-fly zone, and have secured broader support in the council.
Here are the resolution's key provisions.
*Acting Under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
*Demands an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population and reiterates its call for steps to fulfil the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
*Demands that the Qaddafi regime comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance.
*Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahariya in order to help protect civilians. [There is an exemption for humanitarian flights or flights used to evacuate foreign nationals.]
*Authorizes Member States to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights … and to prevent any use of aircraft for aerial attacks against the civilian population, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban.
*Calls upon all Member States and regional organizations to provide assistance, including any necessary over-flight approvals.
*Authorizes members of the League of Arab States and other States which have notified the secretary general, who are acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting with the cooperation with the Secretary General, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian objects in the Libyan Arab Jamahariya, and to make available humanitarian and related assistance.
*Decides that all States shall deny permission to any Libyan commercial aircraft, including Libyan Air, to take off from, land in or land in their territory unless the particular flight has been approved in advance by [a U.N. Security Council] committee.
*Affirms that assets frozen pursuant to resolution 1970(2011) and this resolution must be made available to and for the benefit of the Libyan people.
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Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi was a foe of the International Criminal Court long before its prosecutor opened an investigation last month into possible crimes against humanity by the Libyan strongman and members of his inner circle.
For years, Col. Qaddafi has championed efforts within the African Union to undermine the Hague-based court, arguing that the tribunal unfairly targets only African countries for prosecution. During Libya's Security Council stint in 2008-2009, Qaddafi's U.N. envoy's struggled to block initiatives backing the court.
All that changed when the small Central American country, Costa Rica, led a quixotic diplomatic effort in 2008 to convince the Security Council opponents of the ICC - China, Russia and Libya - to pressure Sudan to cooperate with the tribunal, which has charged three Sudanese nationals, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with war crimes and genocide.
Rebecca Hamilton, recounts the Costa Rican effort in her new book Fighting For Darfur. According to Hamilton, Costa Rica mounted a campaign to press for the passage of a non-binding U.N. Security Council presidential statement endorsing the ICC's investigation into Sudan's ruthless counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur, which led to the deaths of more than 300,000 Darfuris, and drove more than 2 million people from their homes.
Costa Rica's U.N. mission reasoned that the Security Council had distanced itself from the court in the years following the passage in 2005 of Resolution 1593, which authorized an ICC investigation into crimes in alleged crimes Darfur. In a June, 2008, address to the council, Costa Rica's foreign minister Bruno Ugarte scolded the council for failing to support "what, as time passes, seems to be a policy of appeasement of Khartoum and of indifference to the atrocities that are occurring in Darfur." He lined up support for the statement from 9 of the councils 15 members, enough to secure passage if none of the council's 5 permanent members cast a veto.
But Costa Rica encountered particularly stiff resistance from China, which was preparing for the upcoming Olympic Games, and Libya. Security Council statements are only adopted if each of the council's 15 members support it.
Faced with a stalemate, Costa Rica upped the ante, announcing plans to put a similarly worded, but legally-binding Security Council resolution on the matter to a vote, a maneuver that would have required China to exercise its veto to block. The United States, which had been prepared to support a presidential statement, was reluctant to support a binding resolution supporting a court it has long opposed.
"However, it was the Chinese mission that really panicked," Hamilton wrote. "They begged Costa Rica not to present the resolution, promising to sign a president statement supporting the ICC if Costa Rica agreed not to move forward with the resolution. But, as the Costa Ricans told China, the biggest impediment to a presidential statement going through at this point was Libya. Jorge Ballestero, a diplomat at the Costa Rican mission to the United Nations, told Hamilton that China assured them: We can talk to our friends."
Shortly after, China and Libya dropped their opposition to the presidential statement which urged Sudan "to cooperate fully with the court...in order to put an end to impunity fro the crimes committed in Darfur." Ballestero said that Costa Rica had calculated, correctly, that China could not afford to cast a veto over Darfur at a time when it was seeking to burnish its international reputation in the lead up to the Olympics.
Ironically, a top Libyan official at the time, Ibrahim Dabbashi, last month led a diplomatic revolt against Qaddafi's government, and backed efforts by the U.N. Security Council to approve an ICC investigation against Qaddafi's government.
(Disclosure: Hamilton interviewed me in connection with her book, and we once shared a byline on a story in the Washington Post on the ICC investigation into alleged genocide in Sudan)
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The Interpreter blog at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney, Australia-based foreign policy think tank, today announced its four finalists for the Madeleine Award, which recognizes foreign policy practitioners’ “use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs.” The award, which Turtle Bay wrote about earlier this week, honors Madeleine Albright’s use of the brooch to send political messages to enemies and allies.
This year’s winner is the late Richard C. Holbrooke, Albright’s principal partner and rival for influence in President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy team. In a conversation with writer Jonathan Alter, Holbrooke employed a ruse in Dayton, Ohio to break a deadlock in landmark peace talks among the key Balkan leaders. “After the talks broke down, he instructed the US delegates to leave their luggage curbside so that the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats would think the US was departing,” Alter wrote. “That would have meant a humiliating defeat for all sides. The brilliant bluff worked and the parties returned to the table.”
The top runner-ups include Israel and the United States. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, apparently sought to humiliate Turkey’s ambassador during an official meeting by seating him in a chair that sat lower than his own and placed an Israeli, but not Turkish, flag on the table. The prank roiled Israel and Turkey relations and forced Ayalon to issue and apology. “Israel later went after a much bigger target, snubbing US Vice President Joe Biden,” wrote Graeme Dobell, the creator of the Madeleine Award. “As the Veep’s plane touched down in Israel as part of the effort to get peace talks going, Israel announced plans for the 1600 new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem. The Haaretz headline called it `the slap heard around the world.”
Not to be outdone, the Obama administration demonstrated its own ability to inflict “protocol induced pain” by snubbing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on repeated occasions. “The Biden backlash began with the Vice President turning up 90 minutes late for a dinner” with Netanyahu,” Dobell writes. “But the real US snub-upmanship came when Netanyahu headed off to Washington two weeks later for talks with Obama….No dinner after the White House meeting, no statement and not even a photograph of the two leaders together. Take that. The Haaretz judgment was that the Israeli leader left 'America disgraced, isolated, and altogether weaker'.
China’s armed forces also made its way on to the top list by stealth. With U.S.-China military relations chilled, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates set off to China to try to warm things up. “And what better welcome than a jet test: the first flight of China’s new stealth fighter,” Dobell writes. “President Hu Jintao and other civilian leaders gave their American visitors the impression that they were unaware that the test had been conducted only hours before they received Mr Gates at the Great Hall of the People,” Dobell writes. “Or as Gates happily told reporters later while taking in the grandeur of the Great Wall: 'The civilian leadership seemed surprised by the test.' Memo to the PLA: The point about symbolism, much less stunts, is that you need to be clear about who the message is aimed at.”
Which is why China, apparently, remains a runner-up.
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China has escalated a campaign of pressure against the U.N.'s chief sanctions enforcers, blocking the reappointment this month of a U.N. arms investigator who discovered Chinese bullet shells in Darfur, Sudan, in violation of a 6 year-old U.N. arms embargo.
Beijing's action could undermine the independence of numerous panels of U.N. experts responsible for enforcing U.N. sanctions and arms embargoes, according to former U.N. arms experts and diplomats. One top council diplomat called China's behavior "deplorable," saying it sends a troubling message that any U.N. expert who delves into China's role in the illicit arms trade may lose his job.
The dispute places another harsh spotlight on Chinese diplomacy at a time when President Hu Jintao is preparing to hold his final high-level summit at the White House on Wednesday with President Barack Obama. It also highlighted how China's expanding global interests, including a burgeoning small arms trade in Africa, are colliding with some U.S. priorities at the U.N. Since 2001, China has supplied Khartoum with 72 percent of its imports of small arms and light weapons, according to Sudanese customs data cited by the Small Arms Survey.
Investigations into arms trafficking have increasingly focused on China, rather than countries in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, whose nationals sold massive numbers of surplus weapons to African clients in the 1990s.
While Beijing has worked constructively with Washington on many high-priority U.N. issues, striking agreements on tough U.N. sanctions resolutions against North Korea and Iran, it has sometimes impeded efforts to ensure those very same measures are actually enforced. And it is only one of many countries that have resisted the U.N.'s requests for help in tracing the illicit import of weapons into Africa's conflict zones.
China's colleagues in the council, including the United States, have urged Beijing to avoid a confrontation with the panels, arguing it will needlessly expose itself to greater public criticism. But Chinese officials have reacted furiously when U.N. inquiries into sanctions violations have criticized or embarrassed China.
In recent months, Chinese diplomats have expressed growing impatience with numerous U.N. arms panels after they drew attention to the import of Chinese ammunition and assault weapons in several African conflict zones under U.N. arms embargo, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, and Sudan.
None of the panels' investigators has accused China or its arms manufacturers of violating U.N. sanctions, saying it is more likely that African governments or arms brokers that purchased Chinese weapons legally have illegally transferred them to armed groups in violation of U.N. regulations. Still, Beijing has been highly defensive in response to questions about the arms' origins, and provided limited responses to requests for information aimed at tracing the export history or origin of Chinese weapons.
The U.N. panel responsible for enforcing a 2004 arms embargo in Darfur, Sudan, encountered Chinese opposition late last year, after it circulated a report claiming that Chinese ammunition had made its way into Darfur, and in some cases, had actually been used in skirmishes against U.N.-African Union peacekeepers.
The report, first reported by Turtle Bay, does not accuse China of directly violating the embargo, which prohibits the import of weapons into Darfur, but allows China and other arms suppliers to sell weapons to the government in Khartoum. Nonetheless, China initially threatened to block the renewal of the panel's mandate, a move that would have effectively ended the enforcement of sanctions in Darfur. It relented under pressure from the United States and Britain, but it has succeeded in blocking the report's publication. In the past, such reports were routinely made public.
On Jan. 7, China ratcheted up pressure on the panel, placing a hold on the renewal of the panel's arms expert, Holger Anders of Germany, who provided the most detailed case that Chinese munitions had been smuggled into Darfur. Council diplomats said the hold effectively constitutes dismissal, and the U.N. secretariat has already begun a search for an arms expert to replace Anders.
A Chinese diplomat had previously challenged Anders' findings in a written statement as insufficiently supported by evidence, and questioned the panel's professionalism. Exasperated, Anders snapped backed. "He took some ammunition he had found in the field from his pocket and he threw it on the table: `You want evidence? Here's the evidence,'" Anders told the Chinese delegation, according to an official familiar with the exchange. "The Chinese were very offended. They said this is unacceptable."
The U.S. declined to comment on the cases. While Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, declined to comment on Anders' predicament, he said, "Part of the effectiveness of the U.N. sanctions system is the monitoring boards, and the group of experts -- they are supposed to be independent. And that independent advice and expertise is part of the whole set up, and we value that highly, and we would want to assure that this independence remains intact."
China's spokesman, Yutong Liu, declined to comment on the matter, saying, "I don't think I have any comment for you now." Anders declined a request for comment.
China has long been uneasy about the U.N.'s imposition of sanctions to coerce countries to change their behavior, but it has yielded to U.S. pressure to impose such measures to restrain proliferation of nuclear weapons, or to prevent the flow of small arms into conflict zones. It has also sought to limit the severity of measures targeting allies such as Sudan, Iran, and North Korea. Last year, it blocked for more than six months the release of a U.N. panel report suggesting North Korea may have supplied Syria, Iran, and Burma with banned nuclear technology.
But China has been growing increasingly assertive. Chinese diplomats also clashed late last year with a separate panel probing arms smuggling in Ivory Coast. That panel placed China and several other countries on a list of countries that "have given incomplete responses" to requests for information, according to an official familiar with the report.
China was one of several suppliers of small arms and light weapons to the government of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast. But those shipments stopped after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on the country in 2004. Still, U.N. arms investigators have discovered hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Chinese Type-56 assault rifles in the arsenal of the rebel Forces Nouvelle. According to an unpublished report, the vast majority of rifles have had their registration numbers ground off, raising suspicion that they were smuggled into the country after the imposition of sanctions.
The inspectors, however, found a handful of rifles with serial numbers still intact and asked China to help trace them to Chinese arms manufacturers. China replied by saying that most of the rifles had markings inconsistent with those of Chinese manufacturers, suggesting they were copies, and that others had been sold to a third country. But they did not reply to a request for information about the third country, and the arms inspectors are not convinced the weapons are copies.
During the panel's presentation of its evidence late last year, a Chinese diplomat, again reading from a prepared text, accused the panel of lacking "100 percent proof" that the weapons came from China, and scolded the experts findings as "unprofessional. It could have been written by young students."
"They were very, very insulting," said one official familiar with the exchange. "It was an arrogant reaction to stop the experts from what they call naming and shaming China. They want to act like a big country that has the right, through its veto, to intimidate."
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A Russian effort at the U.N. to pressure South Korea to halt plans to launch military exercises in the coming days collapsed yesterday after the 15 nation-council failed to reach agreement on a Russian draft statement urging North and South Korea to exercise restraint.
The council met behind closed doors in an emergency session for more than eight hours Sunday to debate the Russian proposal, which also called on the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to travel to the region in an effort to ease tensions between the two sides. The council also received a briefing from representatives of the two Koreas.
The United States, which has the presidency of the council this month, insisted that any statement include a clear-cut condemnation of North Korea's November 23 attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which left four South Korean nationals dead, and mention North Korea's torpedoing of the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan. The U.S. defended South Korea's right to carry out its live-fire artillery exercises. U.S. officials said that China had blocked any language condemning North Korea, or allowed even a mention of the island.
South Korea "has every need and right to ready its self-defense, having lost 50 of its citizens in the last 9 months" as a result of North Korean attacks, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the meeting. Rice said the U.S. was open to the possibility of a diplomatic role for the U.N. secretary general, but that it was unlikely the council would reach agreement on any statement on the crisis.
Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin said that he had made a personal appeal during the meeting to the South Korean delegation "to refrain from conducting the [military] exercise at this particular time." He also expressed frustration that the council was unable to reach agreement on a statement that sent the same message. "We reiterated our calls for restrain on both parties, in no uncertain times," he said. "We were not successful in bridging all the bridges."
Churkin voiced "regret" that the United States had declined to schedule the emergency meeting for Saturday, thereby providing the council with more time to debate the Korean crisis. He said he would continue to press for a UN mediation role, noting that there was no diplomatic strategy for easing tensions between the two sides. The Russian proposal, to appoint a special U.N. envoy, "did receive considerable support, strong support from a number of members of the Security Council. I hope this idea can be pursued because there are serious political tensions and no game plan on the diplomatic side."
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, pressed China to release this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, expressing hope that China will "come to recognize" the positive contribution the pro-democracy activist can make on Chinese society.
In a rare, wide-ranging press conference in Geneva, Pillay presented the U.N.'s strongest public criticism of China's imprisonment of Liu, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for drafting the pro-democracy Charter 08 manifesto. Pillay also scolded China for placing Liu's wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest "that in my view is in contravention of Chinese national law."
The remarks by the South African rights advocate bore a stark contrast to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's highly circumspect comments on Liu's selection as the 2010 Nobel laureate. To date, Ban has never publicly called for his release, spoken out against the house arrest of his wife, or even officially congratulated him on the prize. Ban did not raise the matter in private talks with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, reserving discussion of the politically delicate matter for talks with lower-level Chinese officials.
Chinese offficials have responded to the Nobel Committee's decision to honor Liu, whom they consider a criminal, by lobbying foreign governments not to attend this week's award ceremony. "China's foreign ministry has boasted that the peace prize has been discredited because a large number of countries agree with China and will boycott the ceremony," wrote Keith Richburg of the Washington Post. "So far, China has listed 18 other countries not attending, including fellow communist regimes Cuba and Vietnam; Arab monarchies and authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia; and China's allies Venezuela, Pakistan, Sudan, and neighboring Russia and Kazakhstan. Iran, Colombia and Ukraine also said their ambassadors will not attend."
Beijing has also mounted a crackdown on Chinese activists and critics inside China. Pillay said that she was "dismayed" by the recent restrictions China has placed on a "widening circle" of activists and critics of the government. "In recent weeks at least twenty activists have been arrested or detained and more than 120 other cases of house arrest, travel restrictions, forced relocations and other acts of intimidation," she said. Pillay defended her decision not to attend the Nobel award ceremony, saying that she never received a formal invitation to the event from the Nobel Peace Prize organization.
Pillay came under fire from Yang Jianli, a U.S.-based Chinese dissident and friend of Liu Xiaobo, who said that the rights leader had rejected an invitation to attend the meeting. At the time, Pillay's spokesman defended her decision not to go on the grounds that she had a previous obligation to host a Human Rights Day event in Geneva on the same day.
Pillay also weighed in on the mounting WikiLeaks controversy, decrying the efforts of politicians and other government officials to "pressure" banks, Internet providers, and credit card companies to cut off Wikileaks, saying such measures ran afoul of free-speech protections. "I am concerned about reports of pressure exerted on private companies including banks, credit card companies and Internet service providers to close down credit lines for donations to Wikileaks, as well as to stop hosting the website," she said.
"Taken as a whole [such measures] could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information thus potentially violating WikiLeaks right to freedom of expression. If WikiLeaks has committed any recognizable illegal act then this should be handled through the legal system and not through pressure and intimidation."
The remarks follow a high-level campaign, first initiated by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, to pressure companies, universities, and other institutions to prevent Wikileaks from disseminating confidential cables. A group of anonymous computer "hacktivists" have retaliated by mounting cyber attacks on the websites of institutions that they believe have been hostile to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
"This is truly what media would call a cyber war; it's just astonishing," Pillay said. "The WikiLeaks case raises complex human rights questions about balancing freedom of information, the right of people to know, and the need to protect national security or public order. This balancing act is a difficult one... So who is best to judge or strike at the balance, but courts of law?"
Pillay said the WikiLeaks documents have provided troubling new evidence that the Obama administration "knew about the widespread use of torture by Iraqi forces and yet proceeded with the transfer of thousands" of Iraqi detainees from U.S. custody to Iraqi custody between 2009 and 2010. "This could potentially constitute a serious breach of human rights law." She said she supported the efforts of U.N. human rights researchers who are seeking clarification from the U.S. and Iraqi authorities on the use of torture. She urged all to investigate the reports "and bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses."
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Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has turned down an invitation to attend the Dec. 10 event at which Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese pro-democracy advocate, will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Pillay declined the invitation because she is already hosting a human rights day event in Geneva, her spokesman told Turtle Bay. She has no intention of sending a more junior official to represent the organization in her place, the spokesman, Rupert Colville, said.
The decision comes as the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon is already facing sharp criticism from human rights groups for failing to press China to release Liu or his wife Liu Xia, who was placed under house arrest after her husband was chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Ban did not congratulate Liu, a leader during the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, and one of the drafters of Charter 08, a document signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals and rights advocates that calls for political reform and an improvement in the country's human rights policies.
In a statement released to the press, Yang Jianli, a Chinese dissident who represents Liu before the Nobel committee, accused the U.N. officials of neglecting their duties. "Ms. Pillay's decision is a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as high commissioner, which I believe resulted from direct pressure from the Chinese government," Yang said. "It is especially concerning because it occurs in the wake of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's refusal to raise Dr. Liu's case when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao shortly Dr. Liu was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate."
China has mounted an aggressive campaign to dissuade foreign dignitaries to attend the December 10 event, warning that it could harm their countries relations with China. Pillay's spokesman, Colville, said that China played no role in her decision to turn down the invitation. He said that she had already had plans to host a major Geneva meeting with five human rights defenders, including activists from Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
"This is not something that she could simply drop. We are trying to put a spotlight on those human rights defenders nobody has heard of," Colville told Turtle Bay. "We have spent months arranging this major event. It's being attended by human rights defenders, diplomats and NGOs, coming from all around the world."
Pillay's supporters said that she had sharply criticized China's treatment of Liu's well before he emerged as a Nobel laureate. In December, 2009, after a Chinese court sentence Liu to 11 years in prison on charges of "suspicion of incitement to subvert state power," Pillay took Beijing to task.
"The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu
Xiaobo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression
in China," Pillay said at the time. "Today's verdict is a very unfortunate
development that casts an ominous shadow over China's recent commitments to
protect and promote human rights."
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As Ban Ki-moon finalized his preparations for his visit this week to Beijing, one of his top advisors, Sha Zukang, traveled to China to present an award to a retired Chinese general who had authority over troops that fired on unarmed civilians during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Sha, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the World Harmony Award -- a glass plaque cut in the shape of a dove -- to former Chinese Defense Minister, Gen. Chi Haotian, in honor of his unspecified contributions to world peace, according to a report in Chinese state media. The World Harmony Foundation, a private charity headed by a Chinese businessman named Frank Liu, established the award.
It was unclear whether Sha appearance at the award ceremony was a gesture aimed at showing understanding for China's troubled human rights legacy. China has faced more intense scrutiny of its human rights record since Liu Xiobao, a jailed pro-democracy advocate who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But Ban responded to the Nobel announcement by issuing a statement that implicitly questioned the wisdom of the Nobel committee's selection for the prize, and he has been reluctant to publicly raise concerns about the house detention of Liu's wife. In a meeting Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Ban didn't even mention human rights.
Some officials said that Sha, a fervent Chinese nationalist, may have been engaging in a bit of pro-Chinese freelancing, or simply doing a personal favor for a wealthy businessman who has provided financial support to U.N. causes. Sha's office declined to comment, referring calls to the organizers of the award ceremony, The World Harmony Foundation, which did not respond to requests for comment. Officials in Ban's office said they were unaware of Sha's participation in the event. "This is the first we've heard of this," Martin Nesirky, the chief spokesman told Turtle Bay. "I don't have further comment for now."
U.N. officials said there is no specific rule prohibiting U.N. staff from presenting an award on behalf of a private charity. Staff rules, however, require employees "uphold and respect the principles set out in the Charter, including faith in fundamental human rights." They prohibit U.N. employees from accepting instructions from any government or from any other source external to the organization." The rules also require staff "avoid any action and, in particular, any kind of public pronouncement that may adversely reflect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality that are required by that status."
Still, the award ceremony amounted to another awkward incident for Sha, who has struggled to make the adjustment to life as an international civil servant. It also reflects poorly on Ban. Last month, Sha garnered international notoriety after criticizing the U.N. secretary general under the influence of alcohol at a U.N. retreat. The story was first reported by Turtle Bay.
Gen. Chi, a recipient of China's People's Hero award, served as the Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army during the Tiananmen crackdown, which led to the killing of as many as 3,000 civilians. Chi has publicly defended the military operation, but has denied giving the order to open fire on unarmed protesters.
"As PLA chief of staff he was present at a series of key meetings on the crackdown but he isn't recorded as saying anything," Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of Chinese politics at Columbia University. "He evidently was one of the key officers implementing the crackdown orders but I can't distinguish from these materials what specific role he played within that small group."
"I have no idea who the World Harmony Foundation is, but I suppose they represent the deft hand of the Propaganda Department in extending China's soft power," Nathan said. "I suppose this is a response to the Nobel Peace Prize."
The World Harmony Foundation was established in 2004 to "promote the ideals and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration," according to a statement on the group's web site. It is "dedicated to building Cultures of Peace and Sustainable Environments for all people."
Since 2005, the group has periodically organized ceremonies to ring the Harmony Bell for Peace, which was fashioned out of ammunition donated by the Chinese government and scrap metal collected by Chinese school children. It is trying to raise funding to build more bells.
Top U.N. officials, including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Deputy U.N. Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro, have rung the Harmony Bell of Peace in ceremonies. In 2008, the group claimed that its founder Frank Liu was selected by an aide to Sha, Guido Bertucci, selected by a top aide to be a spokesperson for the U.N. Global Forum, a unit that promotes better public administration. There is no reference to Liu at the forum's website.
The organization has contributed money to previous U.N. causes, including a commitment to fund a 2009 U.N. concert organized by the U.N.'s public affairs and peacekeeping departments and a private group, the CultureProject. In a July 2009 letter to Liu, published by Inner City Press, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy, thanked Liu.
"Your support is of enormous importance to us," Le Roy wrote. "We are pleased to invite you to our Departmental Conference Room, where you will be given a complete situational briefing on the activities carried out by our peacekeeping missions around the globe. In addition, we would be pleased to offer you a tour of the Department's situation center where our staff monitors developments on the ground 24 hours a days, seven days a week."
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Just days after the Obama administration decided in August to support the prosecution of Burma's top military rulers for war crimes, China's U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, paid a confidential visit to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff to make his opposition clear: The U.S. proposal, he said, was dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to proceed, three U.N.-based sources familiar with the exchange told Turtle Bay.
Li's meeting with Vijay Nambiar, who also serves as Ban's Burma envoy, was the beginning of an all-out campaign by Beijing to thwart a key American initiative that was designed to raise the political costs for Burma's military junta for failing to open its Nov. 7 election to the country's political opposition. In recent months, China has mounted a high-octane, Western-style diplomatic effort, lobbying European and Asian countries to oppose the measure on the grounds that it could undermine the country's fragile political transition, according to diplomats and human rights advocates.
In contrast, the United States has pursued a more measured diplomatic strategy, sounding out top U.N. officials and potential allies about their willingness to support the prosecution of top Burmese officials, but not offering a clear plan on how to do it, these officials said. For the time being, China appears to have the upper hand, leaving the United States with little public support for the initiative from Asian and European governments, or the U.N. leadership. Even some U.S. officials are pessimistic about the prospects for establishing a commission of inquiry for the time being.
"What we are seeing is the Chinese practicing American-style diplomacy and the Americans practicing Asian-style diplomacy," Tom Malinowski, the Washington, D.C.-based director of advocacy for Human Rights Watch, told Turtle Bay. "The Chinese are making it clear what they want, and they are using all the leverage at their disposal to get what they want. And the Americans are operating in this hyper-consensual, subtle, indirect way that we associate with Chinese diplomacy."
Malinowski said the problem is less about Chinese or Russian opposition, which was to be expected, so much as a failure of U.S. leadership. "One should recognize why the Chinese are against this: They recognize it would be a consequential measure," Malinowski said. "If you allow Chinese opposition to deter you then what you are saying is that you are only going to take steps on Burma that are inconsequential."
Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, has one of the most appalling human rights records in the world. The ruling junta has detained more than 2,100 political prisoners who endure torture, inadequate medical care, and frequently death. The Burmese military has also imposed abuses on ethnic minorities, including the forced relocation of villages, forced labor, and systematic human rights abuses, including rape. The country's Rohingya Muslim community in northern Rakhine state are subject to severe bureaucratic restrictions that limit their ability to travel or marry, and which deny citizenship to Muslim children.
"There is a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years and still continues," the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, wrote in a March report, saying such crimes may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. "There is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a state policy."
In August, the Obama administration separately briefed Turtle Bay and the Washington Post's John Pomfret on its plan to support Quintana's call for a commission of inquiry to investigate such abuses. Such commissions in other parts of the world, including Sudan and the Balkans, have led to war-crimes trials.
The decision reflected frustration that U.S. officials' effort to engage the regime had failed to produce democratic reforms or the release of political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves under house detention. The most likely venues for pursuing the creation of a commission of inquiry is through the passage of resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee, which is currently in session, or the U.N. Human Rights Council, which will convene early next year. Washington could also appeal to Secretary-General Ban to do it under his own authority -- although Ban, who is seeking reelection, needs China's support for a second term.
At the time, a senior U.S. official told Turtle Bay the United States anticipated the effort could take years, comparing it to the decades-long struggle to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for mass killing in Cambodia in the 1970s. The official said the U.S. supports an investigation in actions perpetrated against ethnic groups and dissident organizations by Burma's senior leadership, including Burma's top military ruler Than Shwe. "Responsibility lies clearly at his doorstep," the official said.
In the first major test of the strategy, the annual debate on human rights at the U.N. General Assembly, the Obama administration was the only country that explicitly called for consideration of a commission of inquiry -- though Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia signaled support for holding human rights violators accountable for crimes. In contrast, China, Russia, Singapore and other members of the ASEAN nations voiced firm opposition to the proposal. Ban's report to the General Assembly on Burma's human rights record made no reference to the controversial proposal.
Rick Barton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, told the General Assembly's 3rd committee, which deals with human rights, that the U.N. consideration of a commission of inquiry was "significant."
"After carefully considering the issues, the U.S. believes that a properly structured international commission of inquiry that would examine allegations of serious violations of international law could provide an opportunity for achieving our shared objectives of advancing human rights there," he said.
But another top U.S. official interviewed by Turtle Bay last week appeared more tentative about the prospects for success. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, characterized the U.S. diplomatic effort as "exploratory."
"We have been and continue to consult with others," the official said. "It's on the list of things that are good ideas that we want to discuss and explore, but we don't run the resolution in the General Assembly. So that's not our call. My sense is there is not much momentum right now in the General Assembly to add this new element to the resolution. But the dynamics could change over time."
State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said, "Countries have different ideas on how to engage Burma. As a result, we are consulting on a path forward. We have made clear that a carefully structured commission of inquiry is warranted. We will continue to engage as events in Burma unfold. We are at the forefront of this effort and we expect to attract international support. At this stage it is easier to play defense than offense. But that can and will change over time, particularly as countries see an election that lacks any legitimacy and the grim status quo that follows."
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China has mounted a strenuous diplomatic campaign to block the publication of a U.N. report claiming that Chinese ammunition was shipped into Darfur, Sudan, during the past year, in clear violation of U.N. sanctions, four U.N. diplomatic sources familiar with China's effort told Turtle Bay. The findings by a U.N. Security Council-mandated "panel of experts" provide some of the strongest evidence to date that the Sudanese government in Khartoum imported arms and ammunition in violation of an arms embargo, routinely channeling them into Darfur, where it is engaged in a military campaign against local rebel groups.
The expert panel, which monitors a 6-year-old U.N. arms embargo in Sudan, presented its report in a closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council on October 4. The panel claimed that Sudanese forces had used more than a dozen types of Chinese ammunition in battles with Darfurian rebels in north and west Darfur over the past two years.
The report does not claim that Chinese arms dealers were aware that their munitions would make their way to Darfur. However, shell casings from Chinese ammunition were found at the sites of numerous attacks against U.N.-African Union peacekeeping forces, carried out by unidentified assailants. The casings show that the ammunition was manufactured after 2009, half a decade after the sanctions went into force. In all, the panel uncovered a total 18 varieties of shell casings, including 12 from China, four from Sudan, and two from Israel.
China responded angrily to the revelations and insisted that if the findings were not rewritten, it would block the report's release to the public, according to diplomats. "These were very concrete allegations against the Chinese," said a U.N.-based source familiar with the internal dispute over China's arms. "The Chinese don't want the report to be published."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waded cautiously into the Nobel Peace Prize controversy, offering only indirect praise of China's jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo's achievement while crediting the Chinese govenrment with steadily improving its human rights record.
Ban's public statement contrasted sharply from Western leaders like President Barack Obama, who praised Liu "as an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means" and called for his release. Ban's more diplomatic approach to Beijing reflected the risks that confront the U.N. chief, who will need China's support if he hopes to win a second term as secretary general in 2011.
In a statement made on his behalf by his spokesman, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said "the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo of China is a recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world."
Ban noted the importance of human rights in the U.N.'s mission and then went on to highlight China's recent achievements, including advances in human rights. "Over the past years, China has achieved remarkable economic advances, lifted millions out of poverty, broadened political participation and steadily joined the international mainstream in its adherence to recognized human rights instruments and practices," according to his statement.
Ban concluded by expressing his "sincere hope that any differences on this decision will not detract from advancement of the human rights agenda globally or the high prestige and inspirational power of the Award." But there was no appeal to China to order Liu's release.
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that the U.N.'s top Chinese official, Sha Zukang, had "apologized deeply" to him for delivering an embarrassing drunken toast before the U.N.'s top brass at an Alpine retreat in Austria earlier this month, and that he hoped to put the matter behind him.
"Mr. Sha has apologized deeply in person," Ban told reporters at a press conference at U.N. headquarters. "He regretted that his behavior was not appropriate as a senior advisor. And he also knows that his behavior has embarrassed most of the [other] senior advisors at that time."
Ban said that he preferred to focus his attention on preparing for next week's U.N. General Assembly debate, which will be attended by President Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a U.N. summit that will draw more than 130 world leaders to U.N. headquarters. The United Nations has "many, many things to do, so let us get on [with] all these important issues at this time," Ban said.
U.N. officials said that Ban has no immediate intention of firing Sha, the U.N. undersecretary general for Economic and Social Affairs. The former Chinese diplomat was recommended for the post by China, which has the power to veto any bid by Ban for a second term as the U.N.'s top diplomat. But a top Ban aide said he expected Sha would be moved out quietly before Ban's first term ends at the end of December 2011.
Sha, 62, offered Ban a toast last week at a retreat in the resort town Alpbach that was intended to highlight Ban's leadership qualities but which degenerated into an intoxicated rant against the United Nations, the United States, and his boss, Turtle Bay first reported last week.
"I know you never liked me Mr. Secretary-General -- well, I never liked you, either," Sha told Ban at a dinner attended by the U.N.'s top brass, according to a senior U.N. official who attended the event. "I didn't want to come to New York. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But I've come to love the U.N. and I'm coming to admire some things about you."
The blunt dinner remarks -- which came after Sha had a few drinks -- prompted U.N. officials to try to coax Sha into putting down the microphone, according to a U.N. spokesman and several sources who were present. It didn't work. Sha continued the lengthy speech, in which he also expressed his antipathy toward the United States.
"It was a tribute gone awry," said a senior U.N. official who was at the dinner. "It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes but it felt like an hour."
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UPDATE: Sha Zukang's highly undiplomatic toast to Ban Ki-moon in the Alps last week raises questions about China's diplomatic commitment to the United Nations, according to senior U.N. officials. Diplomats wonder whether the incident will spur Beijing to take the organization more seriously, and to send its best and brightest to serve at the world body.
"This raises questions about whether China is a mature power," said a senior U.N.-based diplomat. "The Chinese need to think about this."
Three years ago, China put forward Sha for
a top post in the U.N. Secretariat, even though the Chinese diplomat had little
interest in serving in the international organization and had developed a
reputation for creating public controversies.
U.N. officials described Sha as a smart, hard-working colleague. But they said he struggled to make the transition from an ardent Chinese nationalist to an impartial international civil servant. One official recalled an initial meeting with Sha at which he introduced himself by saying, "Please call me Sha: it means King in Chinese."
Sha's tenure at the United Nations has coincided with Chinese attempts to increase its commitment to U.N. affairs. China had once refused to participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations; it is now sending thousands of peacekeepers to serve in missions from Haiti to Lebanon. Chinese diplomats also played a role in prodding Sudan to accept a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
In recognition of China's growing importance, Ban agreed to China's request to hire Sha to become the U.N. undersecretary general for economic and social affairs. But Sha has struggled to fit in, and his relations with colleagues seem to have been less than collegial. Sha claimed in his inebriated toast that he suspected Ban had tried to force him out of his job.
U.N. officials say that it will not be easy for Ban to fire Sha even if he wanted to. Ban needs China's support for his expected bid to serve a second term as U.N. secretary-general. They also say that Sha will resign only if forced to do so by Beijing. A more likely scenario, according to an U.N. based diplomat, is that Sha will serve out the final year of his term as Ban's undersecretary. "We've put up with him for three years; we can put up with him for another one," said one U.N. official.
Asked today if Ban was considering getting rid of Sha, a U.N. official declined to speculate, saying simply: "Mr. Sha has apologized. Beyond that, I don't have any further response to your question."
Original Post: Sha Zukang, the U.N. undersecretary general for economic and social affairs and the organization's most senior Chinese official, offered U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a toast last week at a retreat in the Alpine resort town Alpbach that degenerated into an intoxicated rant against the United Nations, the United States, and his boss, Turtle Bay has learned.
"I know you never liked me Mr. Secretary-General -- well, I never liked you, either," Sha told Ban at a dinner attended by the U.N.'s top brass, according to a senior U.N. official who attended the event. "I didn't want to come to New York. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But I've come to love the U.N. and I'm coming to admire some things about you."
The blunt dinner remarks -- which came after Sha had a few drinks -- prompted U.N. officials to approach Sha and try to coax him into putting down the microphone, according to a U.N. spokesman and several U.N. sources who were there. It didn't work. Sha continued a lengthy speech, in which he also expressed his antipathy toward the United States. "It was a tribute gone awry," said a second senior U.N. official who was at the dinner. "It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes but it felt like an hour." Ban was described as having smiled and nodded awkwardly during the Sha rant, but he allowed the dinner to continue.
U.N. officials said that Sha realized that he had gone too far, and that he spent much of the following day out of sight. "Sha Zukang was deeply apologetic when he met the Secretary General in person early the following morning at his own request," said Farhan Haq, the acting deputy U.N. spokesman, in a statement to Turtle Bay. "He said that he had risen to speak the previous evening because he felt that recent criticisms of the Secretary General had been unfair and that he wanted to set the record straight. However, Sha told the Secretary General that he realized that the way that he spoke, coming as it did after he had had a few drinks, was inappropriate, as it went too far. He was also aware that his statements had embarrassed and irritated other senior advisors."
Sha did not respond to a request for comment made through his office.
The incident is likely prove to be highly embarrassing for China, which put forward Sha's name in 2007 for the top U.N. post of U.N. undersecretary general for economic and social affairs. China had also played a central role in promoting Ban's selection as secretary-general, and is expected to back him for a second term. Chinese diplomats have privately defended Ban's stewardship of the organization, citing criticism of Ban as unfair.
But the episode can hardly prove helpful to Ban, whose leadership has come under fire from a number of departing top officials, including Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the former Swedish chief of the U.N.'s internal oversight division.
Sha has long had a reputation as a pugnacious diplomat, a Chinese nationalist with a high-pitched voice and a short temper. A diplomatic colleague, Wang Guangya, China's former U.N. ambassador, described Sha to me as the "John Bolton of the Chinese Foreign Ministry." In a 2006 interview with the BBC, Sha told the United States to "shut up" about China's military buildup.
Sha, 62, began his career in the Chinese foreign service about four decades ago, as a young Chinese diplomat who had escaped the student purges of the Cultural Revolution, landing a plum assignment in 1960s London. He rose to the top ranks of a Foreign Ministry that has become increasingly assertive in recent years, serving in Colombo, Sri Lanka; New Delhi, India; and Geneva, Switzerland. He has also served as a head of China's department of arms control, in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Few Chinese officials have been more combative in public than Sha. In that same 2006 interview with the BBC, Sha offered a highly emotional defense of China's military, economic, and diplomatic rise. Sha warned that China would not budge on its claim to Taiwan and that it would use military force to defend China's interest. "No force in the world can shake Chinese nation's determination to achieve unification of my great motherland," he said. "For China one inch of the territory is more valuable than the life of our people; we will never concede on that."
Questioned about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's expressions of concern about China's military buildup, Sha responded: "It is better for [the] U.S. to shut up, keep quiet. China's military build up is not threatening anyone … we are not fighting anywhere, we are not killing the innocent people anywhere in the world today. But look what they are doing today. So we have to be careful, careful to make sure no one in the world can harm China."
Sha was hired by the United Nations in July 2007, making him the top Chinese official in the U.N. Secretariat. Sha has a reputation as a sometimes charming, smart, and humorous personality, but one with a volatile streak. Frustrated that attendees at a U.N. conference last year refused to take their seats, the exasperated official raised his hands in the air, repeatedly beat his gavel, and angrily announced: "This is really unique; now I'm deeply impressed by this uniqueness. And it is so unique that many of you have to sit and many of you have to stand behind making noises," he complained. "I know … I'm offending everyone, which I do not care at all."
The trouble at Alpbach began when U.N. officials arranged for a cocktail reception for senior officials. The organizers asked the U.N.'s senior male officials to mix drinks for their female counterparts, as a symbol of the greater number of top women in the traditionally male dominated organization. Ban acted as one of the main bartenders.
Following the reception and a dinner, top U.N. officials were offered an opportunity to make some remarks. Sha took the microphone and that said that while the "wine affected me a little … I want to say something that's on my mind," recalled a senior U.N. official.
Sha said that while he had not initially liked Ban or the U.N. all that much, noting that he had been forced to take his job, he had grown to respect him. He said that he appreciated Ban's persistence, his hard work ethic, and his stubbornness. But he also reflected the tense nature of their relationship. "You've been trying to get rid of me. You can fire me anytime; you can fire me today," he said, according to the senior U.N. official.
Sha's colleagues, including Catherine Bragg, a humanitarian relief official, tried to approach Sha to persuade him to calm down. But Sha continued. At one stage, Sha singled out a senior U.N. official, Bob Orr of the United States, and said "I really don't like him: He's an American and I really don't like Americans," according to the senior official. But he then went on to credit Orr for delivering a commendable speech at the U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen, in which Orr praised Ban for taking a courageous stand and laying the groundwork for progress on global warming. "He was right," Sha said, according to the official.
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The United States' confidential U.N. sanctions text calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allows foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtails Tehran's ability to raise new investment in the country's energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the U.S. proposal today in a meeting at the U.S. mission with the U.N.'s big powers -- China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany. The United States hopes to adopt a sanctions resolution before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.
The text under negotiation has been written by the United States, with input from Washington's European partners. It has been crafted to target senior officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and a network of Iranian companies and financial institutions it controls. The U.S. believes these entities have been used to underwrite Tehran's military proxies throughout the Middle East and fund Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear enrichment programs.
China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting last week in New York on the text, and insisted that Beijing would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has finally begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions during the past 24 hours on how the U.S. should modify its text.
The negotiations continued as Iran announced that it had made a critical breakthrough in its efforts to produce a self-sufficient nuclear fuel program. The country's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran had enriched uranium to 20 percent purity, well above the previous 3.5 percent level achieved by Iran's nuclear scientists. Iran requires uranium enriched to that level to fuel its medical research reactors. The purity of Iran's enriched uranium is still well below the 90 percent level required to produce a nuclear bomb, but it moves it far closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.
The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington Monday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.
Today's meeting at the U.S. mission to the United Nations represents the first time the six powers -- known as the P-5+1 -- have begun substantive negotiations on the U.S. text. During a three-hour meeting at the British mission last week, China, Russia, and others simply restated their positions on U.N. sanctions. Beijing and Moscow both say they remain committed to resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran through negotiations. They both have pressed Iran to accept an offer to swap its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel from Russia or France for use in a medical research reactor.
But Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin voiced frustration. "I don't think any of us wants to impose sanctions; what we want is to have a diplomatic solution," Churkin said. But "if Iran wants to negotiate it should start negotiating."
Security Council diplomats say that the passage of the last Iran sanctions resolution, 1803, took more than six weeks of intense bargaining in New York to conclude, and that was after their capitals had already agreed to the general parameters to the talks. They believe the current negotiations may take even longer, given that the key powers are essentially starting from scratch. The timing has also been complicated by the presence of Lebanon in the Security Council presidency next month. Lebanon's cabinet includes a key bloc from the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which receives financial and military backing from Iran.
Here's a link to the key nuclear negotiators in New York. The U.S. proposal targets four key sectors of the Iranian economy.
ARMS: The U.N. Security Council has previously imposed a partial arms embargo on Iran that is crafted to prevent Iran from trading in ballistic missile or nuclear technology, and which bans the exports of most weapons. The United States and its European partners want to close the gap with a total ban on imports and exports. But Russia, which supplies Iran with military materials, objects to the comprehensive arms embargo. Moscow and Beijing have insisted that any new sanctions should narrowly target Iran's capacity to developed ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons.
ENERGY: The U.S. wants to bar new foreign investment in the Iranian energy sector, according to diplomats familiar with the U.S. plan. But it would not bar the export or import of oil and other petroleum-based products. China's U.N. ambassador Li Baodong objected to the provision last week during a closed-door meeting of the key U.N. powers negotiating U.N. sanctions. Russia supports China. "If we speak about energy sanctions, I'll give you my opinion. I think that we are unlikely to achieve a consolidated position in the world community on this issue," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a recent interview with ABC television, according to Reuters.
SHIPPING: The U.S. text would permit the seizure of Iranian vessels on the high seas suspected of ferrying cargo linked to Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear program. It would also seek to make it harder for Iran to by insurance on Iranian vessels. The Obama administration sees last year's resolution on North Korea as a model for tightening sanctions on banned Iranian trade. In June, the Security Council voted to authorize states for the first time to board North Korean vessels at sea if they were suspected of carrying banned cargo. The resolution has led to increased seizure of North Korean vessels. But the Chinese have argued that North Korea, a declared nuclear power, deserves a tougher approach than Iran, whose nuclear ambitions remain ambiguous and unproven. The United States and its European allies have countered that sanctions are supposed to be preventive instead of punitive, and that it makes sense to do whatever it can to dissuade Tehran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
FINANCIAL: Rice will be looking to sanction Iran's central bank and press for additional targeted travel and financial restrictions against officials and businesses linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including a group of companies recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department. A natural target is Revolutionary Guard General Rostam Qasemi. who is also the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the engineering arm that Treasury says helps the Guards generate income and fund their operations. A previous sanctions resolution simply encouraged states to "exercise vigilance" to ensure that their financial dealing with Iranian banks, including Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, did not result in funds being diverted to banned military programs. The United States wants to strengthen those measures. Both Russia and China have argued that it would be improper to sanction Revolutionary Guard activities that are unrelated to Iran's banned nuclear and missile activities.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.