New UN Report Alleges Iran Still Transferring Weapons in Violation of Nuclear Deal

General Soleimani in Aleppo

General Soleimani (left) in Aleppo, Dec. 2016 (photo: Iranian media)

January 18, 2017 – Iran continues to transfer weapons in violation of its obligations under the Iranian nuclear deal according to information received by Ban Ki-moon which was detailed today in his final report to the Security Council on Tehran’s compliance with the deal.

Ban’s report also states that two individuals subject to a travel ban by the Security Council have violated that ban.

The report does, however, say that the UN Secretariat had not received any information regarding the sale, supply, or transfer of nuclear-related material to Iran in the past year.

Specifically, Ban’s report states, “On 5 July 2016, France brought to my attention information on the seizure of an arms shipment that, in its assessment, had originated in the Islamic Republic of Iran and was likely bound for Somalia or Yemen. According to information provided, the French frigate Provence, operating as part of the Combined Task Force 150, boarded a stateless dhow on 20 March 2016 in the northern Indian Ocean. That action resulted in the discovery of weapons aboard the vessel that included 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 64 Hoshdar-M sniper rifles, 6 type-73 machine guns and 9 Kornet anti-tank missiles.”

“The Secretariat was recently provided with information (by the Combined Maritime Forces and Australia) on an arms seizure in February 2016 by the Royal Australian Navy, off the coast of Oman, which the United States of America assessed as having originated in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Ban’s report adds.

“I look forward to the opportunity for the Secretariat to examine those weapons and previously seized weapons, in order to corroborate the information provided and independently ascertain the origin of the shipments,” Ban writes.

Ban’s report also states that on, “On 24 June 2016, the Secretary-General of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, stated in a televised speech that it receives all its weapons and missiles from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“Any Iranian arms transfer to Hizbullah would have been undertaken contrary to the provisions,” of the Iran deal, the report says.

With regard to the travel ban, two individuals are named as allegedly having violated that ban by travelling to Syria and Iraq. The allegations in one instance are backed up by photos of one banned individual, General Qasem Soleimani, at the citadel in Aleppo.

On travel by Soleimani, the report states: “In recent months, additional information from open sources suggests that Major General Soleimani continues to engage in foreign travel. In late June 2016, several Iranian media outlets (Fars News Agency, Tasnim News Agency) reproduced pictures of Major General Soleimani visiting the former Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. In October 2016, another Iranian media outlet (Mehr News Agency) reproduced a picture of the General in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, visiting the family of a Kurdish Peshmerga officer killed fighting ISIL militants in 2015. In November 2016, the leader of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia declared that he was in Mosul along with other Iranian military advisers (Fars News Agency)…. In mid-December 2016, pictures showing the General at the citadel of Aleppo were widely circulated by Iranian and other media outlets (Fars News Agency).”

 

General Mohammad Reza Naqdi conducted a field tour in Quneitra

General Mohammad Reza Naqdi conducted a field tour in Quneitra

The other individual allegedly violating the travel ban is Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, former Deputy Chief of Armed Forces General Staff for Logistics and Industrial Research. Ban’s report says he “traveled to the Syrian Arab Republic in March and July 2016. In the following days, … media outlets reproduced pictures of him reportedly in the Golan region, near Qunaytirah, as well as in the Sayyidah Zainab mosque in Damascus.”

Ban’s full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Trump Could Chair UN Security Council Meeting in April

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January 4, 2017 –  Donald Trump will have the opportunity to chair a UN Security Council meeting as early as April this year when Washington takes the reins of the 15-nation body.

The Council’s presidency rotates alphabetically among its 15 members and the U.S. did not preside over the Council at all during 2016, having last held the gavel in Dec. 2015.

During each country’s presidency, a high-level meeting is held which is typically chaired by the country’s foreign minister or president.

Barack Obama twice presided over the Security Council, in Sept. 2009 when he chaired a meeting on nuclear disarmament, becoming the first U.S. president to chair a Council meeting, and in Sept. 2014, when the Council passed a resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Trump berated the UN last week, calling it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “When do you see the United Nations solving problems? They don’t. They cause problems.”

“So, if it lives up to the potential, it’s a great thing,” Trump added. “And if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.”

Of course, Trump may decide to send a signal to the UN by either not attending the high-level meeting in April or by not sending his secretary of state – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the nominee.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush himself never presided over a Council meeting when the US was chair, nor did he ever send his secretary of state. The only time a secretary of state attended during Bush’s presidency was when Colin Powell addressed the 15-nation body in Feb. 2003 to deliver what turned out to be faulty evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador, NIkki Haley, is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks and will assume duties after Jan. 20.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Libya’s UN Envoy Says Illegally Fired and Banned From UNHQ by Jeffery Feltman

screenshot-2016-12-01-at-3-46-39-pm Dec. 1, 2016 – In a letter to Ban Ki-moon, Libya’s former representative to the United Nations says he has been illegally fired and banned from United Nations headquarters. Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote that the decision by the UN-backed Government of National Accord to remove him from his post is illegal because the GNA has not been approved by the Libyan House of Representatives.

He adds that Undersecretary-general for Political Affairs, Jeffery Feltman, instructed the UN’s protocol department to strip him of his credentials, preventing him from gaining entry to United Nations headquarters in New York.

He also says the UN bears much of the responsibility for the chaos in Libya, where three different groups claim to be the legitimate representatives of the people.

His full letter is below. img_0394 img_0395

The 51 Countries That Have Banned Corporal Punishment

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Nov. 21, 2016 – Slovenia has become the latest country to ban corporal punishment in all settings, including in the home, after its parliament passed a law late last month amending its law on prevention of family violence.

This reform makes Slovenia the 51st state worldwide to fully prohibit all corporal punishment of children, the 30th Council of Europe member state, and the 21st European Union state to do so.

The new Slovenian legislation entered into force on Nov. 19.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however slight,” and it calls physical punishment “invariably degrading.”

Corporal punishment in schools is banned in 128 states but only 10 percent of children worldwide are protected by laws banning corporal punishment at home and in school.

Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979. Besides Slovenia, two other countries – Mongolia and Paraguay – enacted legislation this year banning corporal punishment in all settings.

A full list of countries that have enacted laws prohibiting violence against children in the home and school is below, courtesy of the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment.

2016 – MongoliaParaguaySlovenia
2015 – BeninIrelandPeru
2014 – AndorraEstoniaNicaraguaSan MarinoArgentinaBoliviaBrazilMalta
2013 – Cabo VerdeHondurasTFYR Macedonia
2011 – South Sudan
2010 – AlbaniaCongo (Republic of)KenyaTunisiaPoland
2008 – LiechtensteinLuxembourgRepublic of MoldovaCosta Rica
2007 – TogoSpainVenezuelaUruguayPortugalNew ZealandNetherlands
2006 – Greece
2005 – Hungary
2004 – RomaniaUkraine
2003 – Iceland
2002 – Turkmenistan
2000 – GermanyIsraelBulgaria
1999 – Croatia
1998 – Latvia
1997 – Denmark
1994 – Cyprus
1989 – Austria
1987 – Norway
1983 – Finland
1979 – Sweden

Related: Ireland Becomes 47th Country to Ban Corporal Punishment

Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

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November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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EU Countries Providing Less Than 5 Percent of UN Peacekeeping Troops

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Oct. 25, 2016 –  EU countries are providing less than 5% of personnel for UN peacekeeping missions, according to the latest data from the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations.

A summit chaired by Barack Obama in Sept. 2015 at UN headquarters was supposed to kickstart a return to United Nations peacekeeping by European countries, whose troops at one stage in the 1980s contributed 40 percent of peacekeeping forces.

But the amount of EU troops serving with UN missions has actually gone slightly down since that summit with less than 5 percent of the currently deployed 100,019 peacekeepers coming from the 28-nation bloc.

Just a little over a handful of EU countries are providing hundreds of peacekeepers for the UN’s 16 current peace operations, with the majority of EU states providing tens or less.

The top EU contributors are:

Italy 1,114
France 867
Spain 613
Germany 432
Ireland 385
Netherlands 358
Finland 340
United Kingdom 337

All other countries are providing less than 100 peacekeepers with most contributing less than 50.

The burden of peacekeeping is shared mostly by African and South Asian nations with six countries providing more than 40% of peacekeepers:

Ethiopia 8,236
India 7,471
Pakistan 7,161
Bangladesh 6,772
Rwanda 6,146
Nepal 5,131

For its part, the US provides a mere 68 personnel to UN peacekeeping, though remains by far the biggest financial contributor accounting for 28 percent of the total peacekeeping budget, which is just less than $8 billion for June 2016- June 2017.

China is by far the biggest contributor of troops among the permanent five members of the Security Council, providing 2,639 personnel. France is next, 867, followed by the UK, 337, Russia, 98, and US, 68.

Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

– Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next SG Enters Crucial Week

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Oct. 3, 2016 – Wednesday’s Security Council straw poll for selecting the next secretary-general will be the first to use color-coded ballots, showing whether a candidate has received a discourage vote from a veto-wielding member.

All of the candidates have at least two discourage votes in the previous ballots with front-runner Antonio Guterres receiving two in the Sept. 29 poll – Russia is suspected to be behind one of the discourage votes though Moscow has predictably been coy on its preference, only stating in the past that an Eastern European woman should get the nod, and Guterres satisfies nether of these criteria.

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race and appeared before the General Assembly Monday to take questions. While she satisfies both of Russia’s criteria, that she is an official of the European Commission that has imposed sanctions on Russia makes it unlikely she will get Moscow’s support. That is unless a secret deal is struck which would involve the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia and guaranteeing it a top post in the UN Secretariat, with Foreign Policy reporting Sunday that Moscow wants to head up the dept. of political affairs, currently a U.S.-held post.

The Council remains deeply divided with regards to Syria and last week’s interventions by the U.S. and the UK when they accused Russia of war crimes and barbarism over its actions in Aleppo will have repercussions, and this could impact the selection of the next secretary-general. Russia holds the rotating presidency for October and it appears an increasing likelihood that the Council will not settle on a candidate this month, and that may well mean Ban Ki-moon extending his term until into 2017. There is noting in the UN Charter preventing this happening.

The failure of the Security Council to act on Syria has damaged not just the Council but the United Nations as a whole and the Syrian people have paid dearly for this. Russia and the U.S., along with Germany and the other permanent members of the Security Council, have worked together over the past decade in negotiating a deal with Iran to halt Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. That deal was finalized in June last year but it appears that, among other calculations, the Obama administration was not willing to risk the deal falling through by taking action on Syria.

At this stage there’s still a slim chance that the Council’s permanent members will settle on a candidate to replace Ban but Wednesday’s straw poll is really the determiner and the ball is in Moscow’s court.

– Denis FItzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Obama at the UN: Unfulfilled Promise

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

Sept. 20, 2016 –  U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday for the eight and final time, delivering a lackluster speech, noticeable mostly for the sparsity of applause lines – in stark contrast to his 2009 maiden speech.

That speech seven years ago was constantly interrupted by applause and cheers for the newly-elected U.S. president who promised to herald in a new era of U.S. engagement with the world, music to the ears of UN diplomats and secretariat officials after eight years of George W. Bush and five years after his disastrous decision to invade Iraq without a Security Council resolution.

Obama told delegates in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo, responsibly end the Iraq war, work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and take action on climate change.

One the latter two, he has shown commitment and desire. The Iran deal, while far from perfect, appears to have, at least temporarily, halted Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. The U.S still remains a non-signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, one of nine countries preventing it from going into force.

On climate change, Obama’s rhetoric has been strong but his actions less so. Much is made of the Paris Agreement, but it is just that, a non-binding agreement that lacks the force of a treaty.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains open, albeit with less that 100 detainees. Nevertheless, it remains open and some detainees have spent more than a dozen years there without charge or trial – in fact, Guantanamo has been open for longer under Obama than under Bush.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but has been re-involved there since 2014 supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS. Despite the different nature of the operation, many aspects of the 2003-11 Iraq war remain, including an insurgency and armed sectarian conflict. The decision to hastily withdraw from Iraq in 2011 has drawn criticism that it left a security void that was exploited by ISIS.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Obama called for a Palestinian state during his 2010 UN address but a year later vowed to veto a statehood bid by the Palestinians at the UN.

Where Obama has taken decisive action, such as in Libya, the outcome has been mayhem. Mandated to protect Libyan civilians using all means necessary, the US along with Arab and European allies ousted Gaddafi but failed to plan for the aftermath. The country now has two competing parliaments while another group controls the ports from where Libya exports its oil. The chaos also allowed ISIS gain a foothold in the country and it has become a major transit route for migrants seeking to make the dangerous crossing into Europe.

From the beginning of the Syria conflict in 2011, Obama insisted that Assad must step down and in 2012 he said that if Syria used chemical weapons that would cross a “red line.” Five years later Assad remains in power and continues to use chemical weapons against Syrian citizens.

While there were no easy options for resolving the Syria conflict, some countries at the UN, friendly to the US, suggest that the insistence by the US, along with France and the UK, that Assad step down prevented a solution, albeit an imperfect one, given Russia’s stance that Assad’s fate should be decided by a national poll. The more cynical inside the UN, say that the US, along with France and the UK, always knew that insisting Assad step down was never going to be viable and the status quo would continue – while giving the appearance that the Western powers were on the side of the Syrian people.

The U.S. also championed the cause of South Sudan independence, which was achieved in 2011. Yet, the breakup of Sudan has seen the misery continue for the South Sudanese people, with an estimated more than 50,000 killed in the past five years. Despite that many of the killings can be attributed to government forces, the U.S. remains opposed to an arms embargo on the country.

On the global refugee crisis, the U.S. president has been strong on rhetoric but short on action. A mere 10,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S., which is less than the 13,000 admitted by Singapore and far less than the 600,000 admitted to Germany.

The partisanship and gridlock that characterize U.S. domestic politics are responsible for some of Obama’s failures, particularly on closing Guantanamo, ratifying the CTBT, the Disabilities Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But that aside, despite his charisma and likability, Obama has lacked leadership and decisiveness in confronting global challenges in what is still a U.S.-led world order.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Doubts Raised Over Georgieva’s Qualifications for Secretary-General

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Sept. 15, 2016 – Speculation continues to mount that Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is the current EU budget commissioner, will be nominated for the post of UN secretary-general by a grouping of countries including Croatia and Hungary.

Her compatriot, Irina Bokova, the current UNESCO director-general, was Sofia’s choice, but Bokova’s results, in the four straw polls to date, show her with an average of five discourage votes, and that she is regarded as Russia’s preferred candidate is not likely to see her curry favor with veto-wielding Britain, France and the U.S.

Before the race for next SG got started in earnest, the widely-held view inside the UN was that Ban Ki-moon’s successor should be a woman – the first in the UN’s history, and that she should hail from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group not to have held the post.

Results from fourth straw poll

Despite her laudable background, including a career with the World Bank and two EU commissioner posts – prior to her current assignment she was the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Georgieva is seen as lacking both UN and diplomatic experience.

Of the ten current candidates, all have either held, or currently hold, positions inside the UN or have served as their country’s foreign minister – with a few having done both, while Helen Clark and Antonio Guterres both served as their country’s prime minister before their senior UN appointments.

Next week’s high-level segment of the General Assembly is expected to include high-level talks on the margins about charting a way forward in finding a successor to Ban, and if Georgieva is to be nominated then it seems that would have to happen next week at the latest. Some Security Council members have indicated that it is already to late for a new entry to the race.

Whatever the outcome from talks next week, one thing is for sure – the race is far from over.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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