March 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 March 2007
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South Africa will have the presidency of the Council in March.

No thematic debates are currently planned—although some event to mark International Women’s Day is possible and a thematic discussion later in the month cannot be ruled out. Other planned open meetings of the Council include:

  • the monthly meeting on the Middle East;
  • adoption of a resolution on Afghanistan, extending UNAMA; and
  • adoption of a resolution on Liberia, extending UNMIL.

Consultations are expected on:

Behind the scenes two very serious issues are also likely to be pre-occupying Council members. These include Kosovo and Iran.

The Ahtisaari report is expected to be finalised and submitted to the Council in March. However, in view of the complex issues it will raise and the sensitivity of the matter for many Council members, it is not expected to be scheduled for consultations or open Council meetings until April at the earliest.

We have prepared an initial brief on the issues for this Forecast and will cover it in more detail once the final report is available.

On 22 February Mohammed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the IAEA, confirmed what was already common knowledge-Iran has not complied with resolution 1737 and refuses to suspend enrichment-related activities. Instead Iran seems to be expanding its enrichment activities. However, it also continues to insist that it is ready for meaningful negotiations, but without preconditions.

For its part the US continues to say that it wishes for a diplomatic solution. However, anxiety levels have increased with the arrival in the region of a US naval task force and in light of the increasingly tough stance being taken by the US military in the region, both in public statements and in action against Iranian personnel in Iraq. Initiatives to promote the possibility of a negotiated solution have been discouraged. The US turned down ElBaradei’s proposal last month for a “timeout”.

Russia seems to be less publicly supportive of Iran than in the past-perhaps because its advice that an incremental approach would be more productive has not borne any fruit as yet. Also it seems to have slowed down progress with the new Bushehr nuclear reactor, which it is helping to construct in Iran. But it is strongly advocating that both Iran and the US should make compromises to permit the resumption of negotiations.

At press time the five permanent members of the Council plus Germany were meeting in London to discuss their response to Iran’s non-compliance. The US has made it clear that it will be seeking stronger sanctions against Iran. But the US has also said that this time around it is unwilling to indulge in the extended negotiations which characterised the discussions on draft resolutions in 2006. Nevertheless, it seems likely that several weeks at least will be required to arrive at a draft resolution for Council consideration. In the meantime, it seems likely that the US will want to raise the Iran issue in informal consultations under “other business”, so that elected Council members are fully aware of the seriousness with which they are taking the issue. It is possible that this will take place at the beginning of the month. Subsequent briefings on progress with a new draft resolution are also likely. However, at this stage it is unclear whether any actual Council meetings or consultations on Iran will be scheduled during March. Also it is unclear whether any of the new elected members will seek to play a larger role in the discussions.

Sudan and Chad
The conflicts in eastern Chad and western Sudan are linked, not only by the cross-border activities of the protagonists, but also in many other ways. Both involve many of the same players. Both involve horrific use of violence against civilians. Both have precipitated large flows of refugees and displaced persons. And there are in both cases firm proposals on the table for UN forces to provide the backbone for operations to protect civilians, build processes for political reconciliation and establish security. The Council is dealing with each country as a separate agenda item, but it has a close appreciation of the regional dimension and is trying to keep that in mind.

One other factor which now characterises both situations is the fact that while they are enemies, both Chad and Sudan are resisting the deployment of UN personnel. This reluctance to give consent, in the face of almost universal international opinion that a UN presence is both appropriate and necessary, seems to stem from concern that an impartial and independent presence will in the long run result in changed political and military realities on the ground. In this regard, it probably reflects also a belief in N’Djamena and Khartoum that their opportunities for using military means to achieve their objectives are not yet exhausted.

Neither government seems ready for a genuine national reconciliation process-and especially not one in which the leadership, skills and experience of the UN can be brought into play. There is one important difference, however. Chad shows some concern for the plight of the refugees and seems ready to envisage some international protection-but is withholding consent for the robust kind of operation which the UN believes is essential.

The Council faces very difficult challenges on both issues during March. Frustration levels are building. If signs of real progress are not seen soon, powerful Council members seem likely to be looking at other options to increase the costs for the players in other ways.

The International Criminal Court indictments are also an important part of the backdrop. In addition, the recent genocide decision by the International Court of Justice is also extremely relevant. Although the Court held that technically Serbia was not responsible for the genocide in Bosnia, its findings that genocide did occur in Srebrenica and that the former Republic of Yugoslavia failed in its obligation to prevent it, are very important. On the facts in Sudan, it seems unlikely that the state of Sudan and its leadership would be similarly absolved. And the Court’s criticism of those who could have done something but failed to act perhaps sends a message of much wider application.

Although not formally on the agenda in March it is inevitable that Council members will be watching the situation in Somalia very closely. Consultations are expected, not only because of the apparent ongoing deterioration in the security situation, but also with a view to keeping the political reconciliation process on a respectable track.

It is not clear that the window of opportunity that was seen in January and February will stay open indefinitely. Progress with the deployment of the AMISOM force is therefore likely to be an important issue. However, it seems that at this stage most Council members are not ready to take up discussion of the proposed UN operation to take over from AMISOM. It remains to be seen whether the Council will be active in urging an enhanced UN role in the political process.

The Council will have two different aspects of the Lebanon issue on its agenda. The first is a report from Commissioner Serge Brammertz on progress with the UNIIIC investigation into the Hariri assassination and an associated request from Lebanon to extend the Commission for 12 months. This should be straightforward, but may reopen a sensitive discussion from January about who is cooperating with UNIIIC and who is not.

The second aspect is the wider situation in Lebanon, set against the backdrop of much enhanced political tension. Different elements will be on the table, including the future role of the Council under resolution 1701 to advance a long-term solution, alleged violations of 1701, the implementation of the arms embargo and the implementation of recommendations regarding the Sheb’a Farms. It may be necessary to touch on all of these issues in a balanced way in order to maintain the Council’s influence and respect by all parties.

Full forecast


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