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UN: Do Not Set New Flames

António Guterres, new Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his office on his first day at work. 03 January 2017 United Nations, New York (UN photo by Mark Garten)

António Guterres, new Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his office on his first day at work.
03 January 2017 United Nations, New York (UN photo by Mark Garten)

By Erol Avdović (Webpublica – UNITED NATIONS – New York) – To its credit the UN always respond rhetorically on time, but those words mean less to the action, no matter how cleverly designed. So, once again UN say – it is dangerous to play with the fire, especially in the Persian Gulf where the flames of war have been smoldering for some time.

In that tone, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned Washington and Tehran to avoid a major conflict after US has assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3. Rightly so, Guterres said “the world cannot afford another war in the Gulf.” The UN Secretary General stressed that “this is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint.”

Will they listen it is another question.

Through his spokesman, Guterres issued a written statement of two very short sentences, remanding he has “consistently advocated for de-escalation” in the region and that “he is deeply concerned with the recent escalation.”

But his concerns doesn’t concern to many.

Policy of Non-Resentment continues

The question is to what extent world leaders, especially those powerful weigh the words of this Secretary General, who often remains undecided, and looks like a politician who does not want to object to the strongmen – mostly five Permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5, US, China, Russia, France and United Kingdom), but some others too.

Any attempt by a UN-accredited journalists to get a straight answer or to understand his mind and the actual position he represents – remains largely unsuccessful. His spokespeople do not cross the unseen red line of non-resentment either. Even in a most tense situation and issues of possible war we don’t know what Guterres really thinks, since he avoid to take any independent action. And he will probably newer make a statement like Secretary General Kofi Annan did, when he said US intervention in Iraq in 2003 was simply illegal.

Deputy UN Spokesman Mr. Farhan Haq (Photo by Hajat Avdovic  - Webpublicapress)

Deputy UN Spokesman Mr. Farhan Haq (Photo by Hajat Avdovic – Webpublicapress)

Asked by reporters weather Mr. Guterres believe – the killing of Iranian general Soleimani, was legal, and was it the a violation of the UN Charter, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq answerd in a spirit of his boss. He said, he had nothing further to add to the statement that UN already issued.  “That is what the Secretary‑General has to say on this at present,” Haq sort of explained.

When journalist followed with professional curiosity, does the UN Secretary General “need to get some legal advice on this from the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) – since it is a highly relevant subject, whether this is a breach of the Charter or not, Mr. Haq just said he was “not disputing the importance of the topic.”

“I’m just saying that this is as much as the Secretary‑General can say at the present moment.”

And that “present moment” takes to long, experts say. Many important cases around the world – from the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (in October 2018) without taking enough action on UN side – to rather silence about the Saudi bombing of Yemen in which civilians have been killed went unpunished because the UN voice was not heard enough.

What UN can really do?

Addressing the UN statements on the Iranian general killing, Agnès Callamard, who is a Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the time for UN action is now.

“There is no more pressing time for the UN and its leadership to step up than now.  But this statement does not bode well.” She said UN “have the legal tools and the platform,” adding - “please use them.”  Obviously, critics argue, the Special Rapporteur, doesn’t believe UN is being forceful enough on this issue as well.

“I’m aware of her remarks,” UN spokesperson said.  “As you know, she’s an independent expert and speaks in that capacity.”

Ms. Callamard has also criticized UN on the “Khashoggi case”, that she investigated in 2018.

Agnes-Callamard-Special-Rapporteur-on-extrajudicial-arbitrary-executions-UN-photo-Manuel-Elias-2017

Agnes-Callamard-Special-Rapporteur-on-extrajudicial-arbitrary-executions-UN-photo-Manuel-Elias-2017

When it comes to UN preventive diplomacy, World body has lost leverage too. Bearing in mind that Iran and US are on the verge of war for quite some time the Secretary General, didn’t do much to prevent that. Was he really able to?

“In terms of our preventive work, we have, UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), and the UN Special Representative Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert” Farhan Haq said. UN spokesman stressed -  the UN “has been very active in working with various groups (in Iraq) to make sure that the situation on the ground can be as stable as possible.” Haq also said UN “continue to work with all parties.”

He admitted Mr. Guterres already spoke with Kelly Craft the US Ambassador to the United Nations regarding the particular incident on Baghdad International Airport on January 3. But again, he couldn’t say anything more than that call has happened. Only, he has predicted “there may be a number of (telephone) calls coming” to UN Secretary General beside the US and Iran representatives.

Iranians write to Guterres

While calling the killing of its general an extremely provocative move and a horrific terrorist attack done by US, in his letter to the Secretary General and the president of the Security Council for the month of January Vietnam’s ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, Iran’s UN envoy Takht Ravanchi strongly protested the act. He said general Qasem Soleimani had played “a significant role” in combatting and defeating “the most dangerous terrorist groups, such as Daesh (ISIL – Islamic State), and other terrorist groups and entities designated by the United Nations Security Council.”

Iranian envoy to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi briefs journalists outside the Security Council on June 24, 2019. (Loey Felipe/UN)

Iranian envoy to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi briefs journalists outside the Security Council on June 24, 2019. (Loey Felipe/UN)

Ravanchi wrote, the killing came not only as a criminal act but as an “example of State terrorism,” which “constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular, those stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations.”

Well before this event, the UN Security Council was planning the special meeting to debate the upholding of the UN Charter. Among those wished to attend was the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, but it was not clear weather he will be able to travel to New York. Iranians complained Mr. Zarif has not yet received a visa for his visit to UN.

While refusing to comment does the UN Secretary General sees possible Zarif’s participation in UNSC discussion – as a positive, or even necessary step, deputy spokesperson Haq made it clear this time: ”Under the terms of the Host Country Agreement, people who have business to conduct at the United Nations should be allowed to travel here in order to go about that business.”

Who is fighting terrorists?

In his letter to Guterres Iranian ambassador stated – the killing of general Soulemani is ”in fact, fighting those who combat terrorists.” And, Ravanchi called it “hypocritical policy – which also runs counter to the international obligations of the United States on combating international terrorism.”

In Washington president Donald Trump defended his order to US military to assassinate Qasem Soulemani. He said that was a decision to stop the war, not to start the new one. In his Tweet, president Trump also wrote: ”Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!” Yet, it is not clear what this philosophical construction means at this very moment of possible new escalation, since Teheran has promised a swift revenge.

In follow-up tweets, as US TV network NBC reported,  Mr. Trump said he has ordered the attack to

Donald Trump photo by Erol Avdovic, (Webpublica) New York September 2018

Donald Trump photo by Erol Avdovic, (Webpublica) New York September 2018

protect Americans, since Soleimani was responsible for many deaths, “including of thousands of Americans.” Trump said this Iranian general “was both hated and feared within the country.”

US president said Soulemani “was plotting to kill many more … but got caught!” Trump tweeted the general “was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number …. of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself.”

Hours after world new about US military strike in Baghdad on January 3. Trump reaffirmed he is not seeking regime change in Teheran. “Under my leadership, America’s policy is unambiguous: To terrorists who harm or intend to harm any American, we will find you; we will eliminate you,” he said, NPR (National Public Radio), reported.

And now what?

Wide view of voting during the Security Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela. Miguel Vargas Maldonado, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic and President of the Security Council for the month of January, chairs the Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela. 26 January 2019 United Nations, New York (UN Photo by Manuel Elias)

Wide view of v Security Council meeting (UN Photo by Manuel Elias)

Back in New York, UN diplomats say it is up to UN Security Council to evaluate any act that could have dire implications to the world peace and security. While Iran call the killing of its general “US military adventurism and dangerous provocations”, the United States call that the right for self-defense.

With Russia and China increasing their diplomatic animosity toward US, all is – polarizing enough to stop the UN Security Council once again of any serious peace demands. At the same time this is an additional alibi for the silence of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who shows less and less will to lead.

Meanwhile, some US and International media mounted skepticism over the evidence of “imminent threat” of Iranian general killed by order of president Trump, and questioned the timing of that act. Instead, they rather located it within the context of US domestic policy.

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