Council Visiting Mission: Meeting with the League of Arab States in Cairo
Yesterday, 21 May, on the last day of their visiting mission, Security Council members met in Cairo with members of the League of Arab States (LAS) – the first “consultative meeting” between the two bodies. They also met with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry. Both meetings focused on the Middle East peace process, Somalia and Libya, while also referring to developments in Syria. The meeting with LAS also covered migration, refugees and displaced persons.
Meeting with the League of Arab States
Council members first had a short meeting with the LAS Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby. This was followed by a three-hour session with members of the LAS Council, co-chaired by Egypt as Security Council president and Bahrain as LAS Council president.
Elaraby opened the session with a keynote address, which focused on the need for the Security Council to fulfill its international peace and security responsibilities, making particular reference to Syria and the Palestinian issue. He noted that the UN Charter mandates the Council to formulate plans for the international regulation of armaments (article 26), but that it had failed in this regard, in particular with regard to weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, he asserted that the Council too often manages conflicts by applying Article 41 of the Charter (which refers to measures not involving the use of armed force such as sanctions), instead of applying Article 42 measures to try and end them. He strongly suggested that there was a need to review the use of the veto and the practice of imposing sanctions measures without a time limit.
The representative of Bahrain noted that the spread of terrorism had created enormous challenges in the Middle East and that Arab countries had participated very actively in international counter-terrorism efforts. He said the international community should help resolve pending issues in the region, as this would only become more costly and difficult as time went on. Referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a threat to the security of the whole region, he noted that the Arab peace initiative had been welcomed by the international community, but rejected by Israel, and expressed support for the French initiative to hold an international conference on the peace process.
In the discussion that followed, Palestine led the interventions for the LAS on the Israel/Palestine peace process. The representative criticised Israeli practices, including the expansion of settlements, which he asserted had led to an increase of 55 per cent in the number of settlers during the seven years that Benjamin Netanyahu had been in power, the “judaisation” of Jerusalem and the many restrictions imposed on Gaza. He called on the Security Council to adopt a binding resolution with a timeline and invited Council members to visit the Palestinian territory.
China led the interventions from the Council side, noting that the peace process was at a critical stage and that urgent steps must be taken by the international community to put the negotiations back on track. The Chinese representative reiterated that the creation of an independent Palestinian state should be within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital; peaceful negotiations, and not the use of force, was the only way forward; negotiations should be based on the parameters set by the international community, including UN resolutions; specific measures must be taken by each side to respond to concerns about security guarantees; humanitarian assistance should continue as a priority; and the international community should step up its efforts to move the negotiation process forward.
France provided an update on its initiative to organise an international conference on the peace process, explaining that the objective was not to displace the role of the two parties, but to support negotiations and get them back on track. A ministerial meeting had been scheduled for 3 June to prepare for the conference, which it was hoped could take place sometime in the autumn. The US and Russia both drew attention to the forthcoming report from the Middle East Quartet (EU, Russia, UN and US), which will present recommendations on the way forward, as an important element in determining next steps.
Other interventions from LAS members reiterated the responsibility of the Security Council to end the conflict, stating that there was a “dire need” for the Council to establish a roadmap and framework for the negotiations, and expressed support for the French initiative. It was argued that the Israel/Palestine conflict was the “pivotal problem” in the region and was being used as a propaganda tool by terrorist groups.
The UK opened the discussion on Somalia by sharing some impressions from the visit to Mogadishu on Thursday (19 May). The UK representative highlighted that Council members had pressed Somali political leaders to adopt the electoral model and hold elections in a timely manner, and that there was a clear sense that more effort was needed to strengthen Somali security forces. Other Council members echoed these remarks, while stressing the need for better coordination among Somalia’s international partners and for the Somali government to develop a clear vision that would allow for a coordinated response, as well as better coordination between the federal and regional levels in Somalia.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) focused in particular on Arab countries’ involvement in humanitarian and economic assistance to Somalia. Council members heard that the UAE intends to organise a conference in 2017 focusing on support for development projects in Somalia, while Kuwait will hold a conference to support education initiatives.
The representative of Libya initiated the discussion on the situation in his country. He said the Skhirat accord formed a solid basis for the transitional process, and that the UN and LAS should work together to help Libyans reach national consensus, perhaps by inviting Libyan leaders to a UN-hosted conference to support the Government of National Accord (GNA). The two bodies could also help prevent terrorist organisations from infiltrating the country. He emphasised that it was important to support the rebuilding of political institutions and the security sector.
The representative of Spain provided a brief overview of the situation from the Security Council’s perspective. He said that the Council fully supported the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Martin Kobler with regard to the political process. The Council had repeatedly called on the parties in Libya to unite the country and expressed hope that the 16 May Vienna ministerial meeting would bring some progress. With regard to the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), he noted that the Council would review the mandate in June, following the recent three-month technical rollover. The mission was considering whether to move back to Tripoli from Tunis, but this would depend on developments on the ground. Finally, on the issue of sanctions, he said that the Council would consider granting exemptions to the arms embargo to support Libya in its fight against terrorists.
In the ensuing discussion, other Council members confirmed that they would be open to requests for exemptions under the arms embargo. Some also welcomed the outcome from the 16 May meeting, noting the need for unity with regard to the GNA and the importance of creating a single unified military command structure to fight terrorism. The LAS members highlighted some of their own efforts to support Libya and the transitional process, while emphasising the importance of finalising the framework for the transitional period.
Migration, refugees and IDPs
The representative of Jordan noted the heavy burden that the recent increase of refugees had imposed on the Arab region, both with regard to hosting the refugees and providing funding, with countries in the region practicing an “open door” policy towards its Arab neighbors. He noted that in Lebanon and Jordan refugees constitute between 20 and 23 per cent of the population. He mentioned legal initiatives involving the Arab convention on refugees and the Arab protocol to combat the trafficking of persons, as well as other strategies adopted by the LAS. Drawing attention to the huge impact on host countries, including the lack of financial resources needed to provide the level of protection required by international law, he called for better coordination mechanisms to ensure international burden-sharing. Finally, he noted that the Security Council had a particular responsibility for creating the conditions that would allow the safe return of refugees.
As the lead speaker on the Council side, Spain provided an update on the Secretary-General’s initiative to hold a summit on migrants and refugees on 19 September this year in New York, to be followed the next day by a summit hosted by the US, where participation will be restricted to those countries ready to provide specific contributions. He said that the UN summit would be organized around six parallel round tables, and would have as an outcome a political declaration that will be negotiated in advance, with Ireland and Jordan serving as co-facilitators. The main objective was to prevent massive, disorderly movements of refugees and migrants and ensure their protection. The US representative added that the US summit would be modeled on the one on peacekeeping hosted by President Barack Obama last year, and would seek to broaden and deepen contributions to UN humanitarian appeals.
Overall, Council members seemed to welcome the opportunity to engage with the LAS, and commended Egypt for its initiative in arranging the meeting as Council president, with many privately expressing surprise that the meeting was the first of its kind. While some members seemed to think that the exchanges had been quite substantive, noting in particular the apparent unity among LAS members, others felt that there was little interaction and were unsure how far opportunities exist for expanding cooperation between the two organisations. While Egypt and other LAS representatives expressed a strong desire to institutionalise the cooperation between the two organisations, there seemed to be a general sense that follow-up would depend on the initiative of individual Council members, especially on the next elected member from the Arab region.
Meeting with the Foreign Minister of Egypt
The Council visiting mission’s final meeting was with the Egyptian foreign minister. On Syria, Shoukry said that Egypt was not fully satisfied with the meeting in Vienna on 17 May (where there was no agreement on a new date for the resumption of the Syrian peace talks). He criticised the Council for its inaction, highlighting the humanitarian impact of the conflict. With regard to the Middle East peace process, Shoukry noted that President Al-Sisi had made a statement on how to normalise relations in the region, and had declared that he was prepared to make every effort to contribute to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. He also commended the French initiative to hold an international conference. On Somalia, he expressed hope that the Somali parliament would bridge its differences. He questioned, however, whether the AU Mission in Somalia was the most effective tool for defeating Al Shabaab.
Shoukry made several comments on Libya. He said that the Council and LAS were united in their overall objectives, but perhaps differed in their approach. He asserted that the GNA does not have full control of Tripoli and that although in theory the international community could give full support to the GNA as the only legitimate government, in practice the GNA did not control Libya. He added that while creating a unified command structure for the presidential guard was a good idea, it was important to recognise the realities on the ground. Shoukry also said it was important for the legitimacy of the GNA that it be endorsed, but the right conditions had to exist.
Council members’ comments on Libya were split between those who supported Egypt’s views and others who stressed the importance of tackling the spread of ISIL in Libya by building a presidential guard with a unified command structure. Some also expressed disappointment over members of the House of Representatives failing to endorse the GNA, thus hindering progress.