Informal Interactive Dialogue on Cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States
Tomorrow (22 September), Security Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States (LAS). Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, will chair the meeting. The expected briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Council member Tunisia, the members of the Arab Summit Troika—a group of three rotating countries that monitor the implementation of resolutions and commitments adopted by the LAS—are expected to participate at ministerial level.
Over the course of the last decade, the Security Council has increasingly sought to improve and enhance its cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations. Chapter VIII of the UN Charter encourages the peaceful resolution of local disputes by regional arrangements or agencies as long as their efforts are consistent with the principles and purposes of the UN, while Note 507 on the Council’s working methods underscores the importance of increased coordination and interaction between the Security Council and regional organisations. Concurrent with the increase in cooperation with regional organisations, meetings on the relationships with various regional and sub-regional organisations, such as the African Union (AU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have become a regular feature of the Council’s programme of work.
The need to strengthen the cooperation between the Security Council and the LAS was first highlighted during Germany’s Council presidency in September 2012, when it convened a high-level meeting on peace and security in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the Council’s relationship with the LAS. At that meeting, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement which recognised the LAS’ contribution to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Middle East and expressed the Council’s determination to take effective steps to further the cooperation between the two bodies. In May 2016, the Council held its first consultative meeting with members of the LAS Council—the League’s main policy- and decision-making body which is comprised of representatives of the LAS’ 22 member states— in Cairo during its visiting mission to Egypt, Kenya and Somalia.
The relationship between the Council and the LAS was also discussed during Kuwait’s Council presidency in June 2019, when Council members convened for a high-level briefing on cooperation between the Council and the LAS. The briefing took place in conjunction with the opening of a UN Liaison Office to the LAS in Cairo. In a presidential statement adopted at that meeting, the Council encouraged the holding of an annual briefing by the LAS Secretary-General and an annual informal meeting between Security Council members and LAS Council members.
The most recent annual briefing by the LAS Secretary-General took place during Tunisia’s January Council presidency. A presidential statement adopted during the briefing encouraged the holding of an informal meeting between the Council and representatives of the Arab Summit Troika and the LAS Secretary-General on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level segment. The LAS expressed support for such a meeting during its 155th ordinary session on 3 March.
Informal Interactive Dialogue
Tunisia prepared a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, which says that the IID will provide an opportunity for Council members to discuss concrete ways to strengthen cooperation between the Security Council and the LAS. The meeting also aims to serve as a platform to share assessments of and develop effective solutions to conflicts and crises facing the Middle East.
Aboul Gheit, who was re-appointed to serve as LAS Secretary-General for an additional five-year term on 8 September, is likely to brief the Council on several key decisions made by the LAS during its 156th ordinary session, which took place on 9 September. He may note that the Palestinian question remains a central concern, particularly considering the volatile security situation in the Gaza Strip and the continued settlement activity in the West Bank. Aboul Gheit is likely to reaffirm the LAS’ support for a two-state solution within the June 1967 borders as a requisite for peace in the region.
The establishment of open, cordial ties between Israel and several Arab states of the Persian Gulf has emerged as an important dynamic among LAS members. In late 2020, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel under a US-brokered deal known as the Abraham Accords. In response, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that the Palestinian Authority will cede its turn to serve as the rotating chair of the LAS’ Council in 2021, arguing that “there is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Saudi Arabia is likely to emphasise the need to promote the Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by Riyadh in 2002 and was endorsed by the LAS that year and re-endorsed in 2007. It stipulates that a comprehensive peace and normalisation of relations with Israel must be preceded by an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the US is expected to encourage more countries to normalise ties with Israel at tomorrow’s meeting. At a 17 September event marking the signing of the Abraham Accords, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined a plan to “widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy” with Israel, arguing that doing so is “in the interests of countries across the region and around the world”.
Khiari is likely to discuss the challenges facing the region resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s latest biennial report on cooperation between the UN and regional organisations, published on 11 September 2020, the partnership between the UN and regional organisations has “assumed even greater importance in the context of [the COVID-19 pandemic], which demands a collective, coordinated and unified response from all regions”. He may describe several areas of cooperation between the UN and the LAS, including with regard to counter-terrorism and women, peace and security issues.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to emphasise the importance of cooperation between the Security Council and regional organisations and the merits of increasing cooperation with the LAS. Some may also note the need to enhance trilateral coordination between the UN, the AU, and the LAS on cross-regional peace and security issues. These members may refer to the ninth General Cooperation Meeting between the AU Commission and the LAS, which was held on 1 February, in which there was discussion on the need to strengthen the Africa-Arab partnership in the context of negotiations on Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Members are also likely to raise several regional situations that are on the Council’s agenda and discuss the LAS’ role in addressing them. Some may welcome the LAS’ contributions in supporting UN efforts in Libya, noting its active membership in the International Follow-up Committee on Libya and its co-chairing of the committee’s political working group. In addition, some members may highlight the situation in Lebanon, welcoming the recent formation of the new Lebanese government on 10 September as an important step towards ending the country’s prolonged political crisis and restoring economic stability. They may also discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and Yemen, as well as broader issues facing the region, such as climate change and water scarcity.