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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EU-Turkey Refugee Plan Could Seal UN Cyprus Deal

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A UN peacekeeper observes from the buffer zone dividing Cyprus. (UN Photo)

March 9, 2016 – The plan carved out by Brussels and Ankara on Monday to resettle Syrian refugees, if implemented, could also see a resolution to the four-decade Cyprus dispute, with UN-talks which resumed in May already yielding results.

Under the EU-Turkey plan, Syrian refugees would be returned to Turkey from Greece, and in return for Turkey’s promise to take back refugees, EU countries would agree to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey.

Ankara’s agreement is contingent on the EU liberalizing visa requirements for Turkey’s 75 million citizens and Turkey also wants to reopen EU accession talks. But for this to happen, Turkey will have to recognize EU member Cyprus. It is difficult to see any EU member state agreeing to reopen accession talks and green-lighting visa liberalization for Turks if Ankara refuses to recognize one of the EU-28. Moreover, Cyprus, as a member state, has a veto on accession talks.

The UN-backed Cyprus talks are aimed at reunification of Northern Cyprus, which is backed by Turkey, with the internationally recognized EU member state Cyprus. The Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the northern part following a coup d’etat ordered by Greece’s then military junta aimed at unifying Greece and Cyprus.

The coup and Turkish invasion were preceded by years of tension between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities and a UN peacekeeping force has been in place since 1964, making it the United Nations longest-running peacekeeping mission.

In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot community in the north declared independence from internationally recognized Cyprus, but Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

Following the 1974 hostilities, UN troops were mandated to monitor the de-facto ceasefire and a 110-mile wide buffer zone was created that runs through Nicosia, Europe’s only divided capital.

While the situation has remained mostly calm since, a political solution has remained elusive and the Security Council has renewed the mandate for UNFICYP every six months.

But the election of a new Turkish leader in Northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, last April – he campaigned on a peace platform – gave impetus to the talks. The Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, elected in 2013, has long called for a deal.

The talks which began in May have been held at the highest level with both leaders agreeing to six rounds of face to face meetings and both also released video messages in each other’s respective language at the end of 2015 calling for a peace deal this year.

Any peace deal must be approved in referendums by both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities.

A resolution to the dispute would ease tensions between fellow NATO members Greece and Turkey and would also pave the way for Turkey’s recognition of Cyprus, which in turn would ease the way for Cyprus to withdraw its veto over Turkey’s EU accession process.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has long prized EU visa access and the refugee deal reached on Monday, if it goes ahead, could result in Turks being granted automatic Schengen visas in June, but only with Cyprus’s consent, and that’s why a resolution to the island’s 42-year dispute is crucial.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Kosovo Falls Three Votes Short in UNESCO Bid

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Nov. 9, 2015 –  NATO members Spain and Slovakia were among the countries on Monday that voted against Kosovo’s bid to join UNESCO while the United States and Israel were banned from voting because of non-payment of dues to the organization.

Pristina needed 95 votes for admission to the Paris-based UNESCO but fell three votes short of the target with Balkan neighbors Bosnia among the abstaining countries along with EU members Greece, Poland and Romania.

Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt and Tunisia were also among the countries that abstained.

The BRICS countries all voted against Kosovo’s application as did Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and EU member Cyprus.

Serbia, which vigorously opposed the Kosovo bid, voted for Palestine’s 2012 application to join UNESCO, which may be why Palestine voted against Kosovo’s request.

Cyprus, Spain and Morocco likely voted No because of the situations regarding Northern Cyprus, Catalonia and Western Sahara respectively.

The United States stopped its funding to UNESCO after Palestine’s admission, as did Israel.

Iran, Iraq and Ukraine were among the countries that did not attend Monday’s vote.

The recorded vote was 92 in favor, 50 against and 29 abstentions.

Voting NO on Kosovo’s admission to UNESCO: South Africa, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, China, Cyprus, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Guatemala, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritius, Mozambique, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Uganda, Palestine, Paraguay, Philippines, Syria, Moldova, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Lao, People’s Democratic Republic (North) Korea, Serbia, Slovakia, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Voting YES for admission of Kosovo to UNESCO: Afghanistan, Albania, Germany, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, East Timor, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lesotho, Latvia, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malawi, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Palaos, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Qatar, the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu, UAE, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Yemen.

Abstention countries: Algeria, Bangladesh, Barbuda, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Egypt, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Central African Republic, Republic of (South) Korea, Romania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Vietnam, Zambia.

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UN to Raise Holy See Flag on Morning of Pope Francis Visit

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Sept. 21, 2015 – The United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See on Sept. 25th ahead of Pope Francis’s address to the UN General Assembly that morning.

The decision to raise the flag of a non-member observer state comes after a resolution passed by the General Assembly on Sept. 10th to allow the flags of Palestine and the Holy See to fly alongside the flags of the 193 UN member states.

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Francis will be the fourth pope to address the assembly and it will be the fifth papal UN visit. Paul VI was the first pope to address the UN in 1965, one year after the Holy See became a non-member observer state. John Paul II visited twice, in 1979 and 1995. Benedict XVI addressed the assembly in 2008.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

Just over 40 of the UN’s 193 member states have a Catholic-majority population while the overall global Catholic population is about 1.2 billion. Latin America and Europe have the largest share of the global Catholic population with 39 percent and 24 percent of all Catholics respectively living in these regions.

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General  Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

The United States has the fifth biggest share of Catholics among countries with about 75 million followers or 25 percent of its population.

Palestine has said it will raise its flag on Sept. 30 ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech following a ceremony on UN grounds. The Holy See has said there will be no ceremony for its flag raising. UN personnel will raise the flag the same time as they raise the other flags on Sept. 25.

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN click to enlarge

Francis, aged 78, is the first Latin American pontiff and the Argentine is also the first Jesuit pope and the first non-European pope since Syria’s Gregory III in 741.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he chose the name Francis following his election by papal conclave in 2013 in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans whose mission is to serve the poor.

In his UN address, he is expected to speak about climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and the global refugee crisis as well as the conflicts that underlie the refugee crisis.

In addition, he is also expected to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, but a region where the number of Christians who’ve had to flee war and persecution has risen dramatically in the past decade, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 sovereign states including the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Palestine. It also has formal contacts, but not diplomatic relations, with Afghanistan, Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Somalia and has unofficial delegates in regions where there are Catholic communities including the Arabian peninsula and Western Sahara.

The Holy See has no diplomatic relations of any kind with the Maldives, North Korea, China and Bhutan.

Prior to his address to the assembly, Francis will attend a town hall meeting with UN staff.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
@denisfitz

 

Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

April 30, 2015 – The buzz surrounding the election of Ban Ki-moon’s successor continues to gather pace and this week in New York, 32 member states plus the EU spoke at a General Assembly debate on transforming the way the UN appoints its secretary-general.

Twenty-one of the speakers said it was high-time the UN seriously considered appointing its first female secretary-general. Eight men have held the post since the organization’s founding in 1946 and the UN as a whole – the secretariat, member states and the Security Council – has a less than stellar record on promoting gender equality.

There’s also wide agreement inside the United Nations that the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group that has not occupied the position, whereas three secretaries-general have come from the Western group, two each from Asia and Africa, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among the female candidates mentioned for the post are current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the EU’s budget commissioner, as well as Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite – who is unlikely to get a pass from veto-wielding Russia.

But there are others.

Of the five female foreign ministers among countries that are members of the Council of Europe, four of them are from Eastern Europe: Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Georgia’s Maia Pandjikidze, Estonia’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Pusic has been mentioned as a possible candidate while Pandjikidze and Pentus-Rosimannusis appear to be out of the running as long as Russia holds a veto over the process and, while there are mounting calls for the UN to change the way it elects the secretary-general, at Monday’s debate China, Russia and the US all voiced support for maintaining the status quo.

But Gherman may well fit the bill. Moldova lies at the crossroads of Slavic and Latin Europe. The tiny republic is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and also has aspirations of joining the European Union, signing an association agreement with Brussels last year.

Moldova’s ties to Russia are long and complicated. There are Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transnistria, ostensibly they are there as peacekeepers. Russia is also Moldova’s second biggest individual trading partner – behind Romania – and a major destination for Moldovan migrant labor. Their remittances are vital for Europe’s poorest country.

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Gherman met with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov when she was in New York last September. (photo/Moldova MFA)

Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine after it signed the EU association agreement and has threatened to cut off the country’s energy supply. Gherman’s party is decidedly pro-EU and she is at the forefront of pushing for the country’s membership in the bloc but it will likely be years before Chișinău fully meets the accession criteria

Its relations with Moscow are far more important currently and while a pro-EU party rules, support inside the country for joining the EU is lukewarm. More importantly, unlike most of its Eastern Europe neighbors, Moldova is not a member of NATO nor an aspiring member. Its constitution enshrines permanent neutrality.

While Gherman, whose father Mircea Snegur was the first president of Moldova, is far from an ideal candidate from Russia’s point of view, given her strong pro-EU orientation, if she puts her hat into the ring for the secretary-general race, she may well find that Russia is far more sympathetic to a Moldovan candidate than one from a neighboring NATO member state.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

NPT Conference to Open With Little Progress Made Since Last Review

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April 24, 2015 – The five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opens in New York on Monday but little has been accomplished in advancing the objectives of the treaty since the 2010 conference.

That review ended with agreement on a 64-point action plan on disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy as well as agreement to hold a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

A new research publication from Reaching Critical Will states that of the 22 actions related to disarmament in the 2010 Action Plan, only five have seen definite progress as compared to 12 of 23 non-proliferation commitments and 11 of 18 related to nuclear energy.

“It has become clearer than ever during the course of this review cycle that the nuclear-armed states are not willing to fulfill their disarmament obligations or to take on any concrete, time-bound commitments that might assist with meeting their obligations,” the report states.

Meanwhile, the conference on creating a WMD weapons-free-zone in the Middle East, slated to be be held in Finland, never took place due to gaps in the positions of Arab states along with Iran and that of Israel.

Israel remains one of only four countries, along with Pakistan, India and South Sudan, not to have signed the NPT. North Korea was a signatory but has since withdrawn from the treaty. South Africa is the only country to have ever built nuclear weapons and then voluntarily destroyed them, which it did in the early 1990s. Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

As a result of the intransigence of nuclear-weapons states with regard to fulfilling their obligations under the NPT, there is now support for negotiating a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—to be marked in August 2015—is widely seen as an ‘appropriate milestone’ by which to launch the diplomatic process to negotiate such a treaty,” Reaching Critical Will say in their report.

As it stands, nuclear-weapons states – Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States – possess approximately a combined 15,650 nuclear weapons and are in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenal, a sure sign that disarmament is a long way off.

The NPT was opened for signatory in 1968 and came into force in 1970. A review conference is held every five years to assess progress. This year’s review conference will run from April 27 – May 22.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Iran to UN: Saudi Arabia Must Prosecute Drunk Driving Diplomat Who Killed Tehran Man

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Oct. 13, 2014 – Iran’s government has told Ban Ki-moon that it expects Saudi authorities to prosecute a diplomat who it says killed an Iranian civilian while driving drunk in Tehran last year.

The information was in a report released by the United Nations on Monday on measures taken by UN member states to protect diplomats and diplomatic premises.

In the report, Iran’s mission to the UN says the diplomat, Yasser bin Mohammed Al-Qarni, was involved in previous cases of driving while intoxicated and that the Saudi government was informed of these incidents but “had failed to properly address the serious offenses committed by its staff.”

With regard to the incident in which Iran says one of its citizens was killed, Iran’s submission states that: “Based on the report provided by the Tehran Traffic Police, at 5.30 a.m. on 14 March 2013, Mr. Al-Qarni exceeded the speed limit, considerably endangering the lives of other motorists and pedestrians and causing the car to swerve out of control, killing an Iranian civilian and seriously injuring two others, including a police officer.”

“The cause of the accident was proved to be high speed and reckless driving of the motorist while under the influence of alcohol, which constitutes a serious crime under Iranian national laws.”

Drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited in both Saudi Arabia, where its consumption is punishable by public flogging, and Iran, where two people were sentenced to death for their third alcohol offense in 2012.

In a July report, Saudi Arabia lodged a complaint with the UN that Al-Qarni had his diplomatic rights violated after a “motor vehicle accident.” The Saudi complaint said Al-Qarni was “subjected to medical tests,” had his passport confiscated and was banned from leaving the country. After “vigorous attempts” by the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, Al Qarni was allowed leave Iran two months after the incident.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly denied that Al-Qarni was driving drunk.

Ban Ki-moon is required to issue a report on measures taken by member states to protects diplomats and diplomatic premises following a December 2012 General Assembly resolution.

The resolution was passed in response to a 2011 plot which resulted in a Texas-based Iranian-American being found guilty of involvement in a plan to hire a Mexican drug cartel to bomb a Washington DC restaurant in order to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz