Editors’ Note: This is part of a new weekly series from Just Security that keeps readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
U.S.-Poland Ministerial on the Middle East Ignites Iran-Israel Tensions at the Security Council
Discussion of the recently announced “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” during the monthly U.N. Security Council meeting on the Middle East put on display deep rifts over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s regional role. The ministerial is to be hosted by the United States and the Republic of Poland on February 13-14 in Warsaw. Acting U.S. Permanent Representative Jonathan Cohen offered reassurance that the conference would not serve as a forum to attack Iran and indicated that the agenda will focus on broader issues of regional peace and stability. Russian Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenzia censured the decision to not extend Iran an invitation to the conference and emphasized Tehran’s centrality to any attempts at regional stability. Polish Permanent Representative Joanna Wronecka suggested the upcoming conference will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without mentioning Iran. Meanwhile, the Israeli and Iranian representatives also traded barbs.
While lacking a detailed agenda, the U.S. State Department has set out the purpose of the conference in broad terms, announcing the “ministerial will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on Fox News that the conference would include “an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.” The conference was announced in mid-January as Secretary Pompeo traveled to Gulf Cooperation Council countries to discuss regional issues, including Iran.
Attendance at the Warsaw conference is likely to be revealing in terms of who declines, and the level of seniority of participants. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said over 70 countries have been invited, including all EU members. However, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini will not attend, and France, Germany, and Britain are determining who to send as representatives. Some European diplomats perceive Poland’s role of conference co-host as an effort to “split the EU over Iran.” Russia refused an invitation to Warsaw and provided three explanations: (1) the agenda does not address the Palestinian problem and is an attempt to coalesce an anti-Iran platform, (2) participants will not be able to influence final decisions, and (3) the conference is being arranged too quickly and behind closed doors.
Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the conference is an “anti-Iran circus” and reminded Poland that Iran offered refuge to Poles during World War II. Iran also cancelled a Polish film festival in response. One expert at the Atlantic Council argues Warsaw has decided to prioritize stronger relations with the United States despite creating a rift with Iran to solidify a stronger deterrent against Russian aggression, and perhaps to increase its geopolitical prominence. Nevertheless, Polish officials have been meeting with Iranian officials attempting to assuage concerns about the conference, including a trip to Tehran by Polish Deputy Minister Lang, who used the occasion to lay flowers at the Polish cemetery where WWII refugees are buried.
U.S. Seizes on Conference on Disarmament to Censure Russian violations of the INF Treaty
The first part of the annual U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, the only permanent multilateral body for negotiating arms control agreements, started on Monday in Geneva. Historically, the conference has supported multilateral and bilateral efforts (specifically between the United States and Russia) at disarmament. However, in recent years, the body has struggled to create consensus – the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is the last arms control agreement the body successfully negotiated. Director General of the U.N. office in Geneva Michael Møller acts as Secretary-General of the Conference, and in his remarks earlier this week, he called attention to the failure of the current arms control regime to address cyber-security and emerging technological challenges.
On Monday, Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, used the meeting as a forum to deliver a speech censuring Russia’s destabilizing role in international security, specifically with regard to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
This week Russia acknowledged the existence of a cruise missiles system (SSC-8/9M729) after years of denials. The United States says this system violates the INF Treaty, which prompted U.S. President Donald Trump in October 2018 to announce plans to withdraw from the treaty. U.S. and Russian officials are in ongoing negotiations to salvage the INF treaty ahead of planned U.S. withdrawal in two weeks. The United States wants Russia to destroy this noncompliant cruise missile system, but Russia has said, “We shall not yield to any ultimatums like to liquidate or to eliminate [a] missile that doesn’t fall within the range of the treaty prohibitions.”
With regard to the CWC, Ambassador Wood raised the March 2018 assassination attempt against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, in which “Russia used an unscheduled, highly toxic nerve agent.” Just this week the EU sanctioned two Russians blamed for the attack.
Yemen is One of Fourteen States Examined at the 32nd Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
The UPR Working Group will examine 14 states’ human rights records this week and next, including New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, and Cambodia.
The situation in Yemen has significantly deteriorated since the country’s last UPR in 2014, which has impeded the government from implementing accepted recommendations.
For more on U.N. involvement in Yemen’s devastating conflict, see last week’s edition of National Security at the United Nations.