Can the United Nations Be Helpful in the Middle East?
A briefing by John Bolton
March 21, 2006
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As U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations since August 1, 2005, Ambassador John Bolton has made his mark on the institution. Prior to his current position, Ambassador Bolton served as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. He has served in the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
How can the United Nations make a meaningful contribution to the current state of affairs in the Middle East? An analysis of three specific examples indicates that the decision is largely contingent on the degree of involvement which the Security Council is willing to offer; the short answer is that it depends.
The loosening of the Syrian grip over Lebanon at the behest of the United States, Great Britain, and France is an example of action by the Security Council. This action, however, was dependent on a confluence of events which led to progress in reducing Syrian influence in Lebanon.
The reestablishment of working U.S.-French relations has proven very helpful in the Syrian case, and the international community has been further compelled to act on the Syrian influence in Lebanon since the February 15, 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria's belligerent pursuit of efforts towards weapons of mass destruction, its fostering and permitting of terrorism, and Damascus' continued support of terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have forced the international community into action, and substantial steps towards progress have been made.
UN Resolution 1559 called for a complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, yet this action has yet to be completed. Syrian security forces are still present in Lebanon, and Syria has also failed to exchange ambassadors and normalize diplomatic relations, in addition to evading the demarcation of borders. These actions hinder the diplomatic process and are indicative of Syria's failure to comply with protocols issued by the United Nations.
The Lebanese government now has the daunting but crucial task of taking power back from Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah remains armed and in place due to Iranian and Syrian support, and its position in Southern Lebanon is a major security threat to inhabitants of Israel, particularly in the north. If Lebanon can eliminate Hezbollah's control, influence, and geographic position, it will be of critical importance and benefit to the strategic security position of Israel.
In addition to creating UN Resolution 1559 to extricate Syria from Lebanon, the UN Security Council also created an independent international investigative commission to aid Lebanese authorities investigating the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri's assassination may likely have involved top levels of Syrian security forces, and the Syrian government has withheld all information pertinent to the investigation, even going so far as to claim that it has no documents on the former Prime Minister of Lebanon altogether.
The UN's action and persistence of the Syrian case stands in stark contrast to its approach towards Iraq. The United States urges and welcomes more UN involvement in Iraq on a regular basis. While the United States can understand the difficulty of further UN involvement, particularly given the losses incurred when the UN Headquarters in Baghdad was attacked, it must be clear that Iraq is a battlefield in the War on Terror. Everyone is at risk in Iraq, whether they be UN personnel, civilians, military personnel, or foreign NGO operators, yet the fact remains that there is an opportunity for the UN to play a much larger role, and the absence of a stronger UN presence is not due to resistance from the United States.
The UN's lack of action regarding Iran's clandestine pursuit of nuclear technology represents the most disturbing and dangerous diplomatic situation that is facing the United States and the world today. The United States has been concerned with Iran from the outset of the Bush administration, and the U.S. has been pursuing peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve the issue in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for three and a half years.
The EU, Russia, and China have expressed broad support for the Security Council's long overdue commitment to resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue. The Iranian uranium enrichment program is in clear violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Iran should be told, in no uncertain terms, to comply with nearly a dozen IAEA regulations which have called on it to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
The United States supported incredibly generous offers made by the EU-3 (Great Britain, Germany, and France) to provide civil nuclear energy to Iran simply on the condition that Tehran give up its enrichment program domestically. All offers have been rejected thus far.
The Iranian issue will serve as an important test for the United Nations. The UN Security Council was largely irrelevant during the Cold War due to competing vetoes from permanent members. The Security Council's response to the Iranian issue will likely determine its own relevance in this phase of history.
American concerns about Iran are not merely over the Iranian efforts to develop longer range, more accurate ballistic missiles, but also about the fact that Iran remains the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, in funding and virtually any other measure. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, compounds U.S. concerns by virtue of the fact that he denies the Holocaust, has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and has suggested that Israel be moved to Germany, Alaska, and other locations.
The United States under the Bush administration is determined that Iranian nuclear ambitions are unacceptable. Whether the Security Council can successfully deal with dismantling the Iranian threat is a test that the United States, Israel, and the world are anxious for it to pass in order to promote security and establish its lasting relevance in international diplomacy.
Related Topics: US policy
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