May will be an unusual month for the Security Council. The formal programme of work seems very light. But behind the scenes, Darfur and Iran will occupy a vast amount of time and energy. Congo has the presidency (along with the presidency of the AU). No new thematic debates are expected.
The Council statement of 29 March, calling for suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities, was bluntly rejected by Tehran.
The visit to Iran by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei seemed to produce no evidence of a softening in the Iranian position. ElBaradei’s report, requested by the Council upon expiry of the deadline on 28 April, will trigger a new phase of Council activity.
The US has also been blunt about the issue, emphasising both its importance and its urgency.
Russia is signalling that it will not agree to UN sanctions at this time and that unilateral sanctions (i.e. withholding various commercial contracts) is inappropriate in the absence of UN sanctions.
The prospects are for another round of negotiations, such as occurred in March. It seems likely that most if not all of the action will take place outside the Council. The five permanent members and Germany will probably keep the issue under very close wraps. And some of the key action will take place outside New York.
The tortuous nature of the March negotiations concealed the fact that the eventual compromise outcomes were predictable. In May a similar situation could repeat itself.
If, as seems possible, a fully fledged sanctions resolution is still a bit further down the track, agreement in May on compromise wording on the implications for international peace and security is not inconceivable. Nor should it be impossible to find language translating the non-binding IAEA resolution and Council statement into an obligation binding under international law, while at the same time accommodating Russia’s concern that the text should not, of itself, be capable of interpretation as an authorisation for the use of force.
All parties seem genuinely interested in leaving some space for a “diplomatic” solution. But there seems to be a huge difference on how much time is appropriate.
Hints that there is interest in a further round of discussions in Vienna, and perhaps a new IAEA resolution, may be seen as reinforcing a “diplomatic” as opposed to a “coercive” track and providing time and space for negotiations. It will not fly if it becomes a delaying tactic, but perhaps parallel options may be discussed.
As the month unfolds, an interesting issue will be the level of patience of the ten elected Council members. In March they acquiesced in the eventual P5 draft statement, despite misgivings about the manner in which the discussions had been managed. The UK and France made various efforts in March to redress this problem with one-off briefings. It seems that for many of the E10 a more inclusive effort will be expected in May.
A very important turning point on Darfur seems to have been reached in late April. Quietly, but effectively, the African Council members have demonstrated leadership and enabled the Council to agree on both a statement giving a boost to the peace negotiations in Abuja and also a resolution imposing targeted sanctions on four individuals.
This development, and the sense that China and Russia are willing to be guided by the lead the AU is giving, suggests that the course may now be set for the transition to a UN force for Darfur.
The willingness of the Council in its April presidential statement to acknowledge the oft repeated AU position regarding the need for the UN force to have a partnership element may have played a positive role in this evolution.
The attack on Chad from Sudan, clearly facilitated by the ongoing instability in Darfur, may have also played a role in solidifying a new sense of direction in the Council.
The focus in May therefore is likely to be on:
Developing the framework for the mandate of the new UN operation, based on the initial advice and guidance given by the Secretary-General and a more detailed report on options which is expected.
Preparing for the Council Mission in early June, including the messages to be given to Khartoum (likely to be robust but not deliberately confrontational).
Dealing with the consequences if the Abuja talks continue to stagger on (a more complex and robust UN force then becomes part of the equation).
Managing the cross-border implications, in light of the complaint from Chad of aggression by Sudan from Darfur.
Some further discussion of targeted sanctions is possible. The Panel of Experts has set out a menu of options. However, final action may await the outcome of decisions on mandate and the mission visit to Khartoum.
For the Secretary-General an increasing focus will be on force generation for the new operation. He will be looking for a country or countries to step forward and give leadership, in fulfilment of the responsibility to protect, and commit to the core components for the new force. He will no doubt be looking not only for encouragement but also candidates from within the Council.
This issue is coming down to the wire. The Council’s patience is almost exhausted and a decision to reduce UNMEE to a small observer mission now seems inevitable unless there is a breakthrough in early May. To a large extent the ball is in Ethiopia’s court. Despite harsh language, Eritrea seems to be signalling readiness to respond to a “genuine” initiative-but the test of that is a signal from Ethiopia that it will accept and implement the EEBC decision on the border.
There are no scheduled events to trigger discussion on issues relating to Lebanon/Syria. However, there is a sense in the UN that this could become an important issue in May. Reactions to the 18 April report on resolution 1559 from Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen seem to reinforce that possibility.
Council action on the following are expected:
Côte d’Ivoire: a resolution to expand the force ceiling for UNOCI and continued support and encouragement for the IWG
Timor-Leste: a difficult discussion on the need for a UN presence to follow on from UNOTIL is likely to result in a compromise on a small political mission, perhaps under the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate
Sierra Leone: a resolution on Charles Taylor is expected
Haiti: monitoring of the election process, but no substantive action unless problems emerge
Somalia: renewal of the mandate of the sanctions Monitoring Group, but no action on the IGAD proposal for a partial lifting of the arms embargo