Mention of Belarus Derails UN Security Council Talks

// Russian UN Ambassador Churkin Avenges Brencick's Incautious Proposal

On Tuesday evening six-sided talks at the United Nations in New York concerning a resolution on Iran's nuclear program were interrupted when Russia abruptly refused to participate in a prearranged consultation. The ire of Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin was aroused by a proposal from the United States to discuss the human rights situation in Belarus at a closed session of the UN Security Council.

The resolution on Iran was slated for discussion at a meeting on Tuesday of the "group of six," which includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China) and Germany. But prior to that meeting, the Security Council convened a closed session in which the situations in Lebanon and Cote d'Ivoire were high on the agenda. Before the discussion could begin at the closed session, American Ambassador to the UN William Brencick brought up the question of former Belorussian presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin's ongoing 53-day hunger strike in prison, as well as the poor human rights situation in Belarus.

According to witnesses, Mr. Brencick's initiative did not cause any great stir among those present at the session, with the notable exception of Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, who objected that the proposed topic has nothing in common with the problems currently before the Security Council. The Russian ambassador reproached his American colleague for his proposal, saying that it would turn the Security Council into a banal talking shop where all kinds of nonsense, right up to "cornflakes," are discussed. After that, the discussion began to trickle quietly back onto the path set out in the agenda.

At the end of the discussion in the Security Council, the ambassadors of the group of six headed for a room set aside for a private consultation, where they planned to work on finding a consensus on the question of Iran. After the earlier skirmish, tensions were running high and soon erupted when it became clear that Vitaly Churkin wanted to revisit the topic of the American ambassador's proposal to discuss Belarus. Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the UN, tried to salvage the situation. "I called on those present to respect the agenda that had been adopted for the meeting and to begin the consultation," he said later. "But at that moment [our] colleague from Russia announced that he needed to receive instructions [from Moscow] on the question of Belarus." Mr. Churkin stalked out of the room. That evening's consultation of the group of six on the Iranian nuclear problem was finished without ever having gotten off the ground.

Yesterday evening the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry reacted to the incident in the Security Council by accusing Washington of attempting to turn the UN Security Council into a forum for discussing topics dictated by domestic political considerations (at the end of last week the US Congress voted to prolong sanctions against Belarus). "The Security Council should consider only those questions that are included in its purview by the UN charter and that pose a threat to international peace and security. Other mechanisms exist within the UN system for reviewing the question of the observance of human rights in this or that country, particularly the Human Rights Council that was created this year," said the ministry.

"The US chose the wrong moment [to bring up Belarus]" admitted British Ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry yesterday. The Chinese ambassador expressed the most concern, noting that the consultation among the members of the group of six has already been delayed twice before. On Friday the representatives of the three European countries in the group distributed a revised text of the resolution on Iran in the hope that it would be approved by Moscow and Beijing, who considered the sanctions against Tehran proposed by the West to be excessively harsh. In particular, Russia is against the freezing of assets belonging to Iranian companies working in the nuclear sector, as well as any ban on foreign travel for representatives of those companies. In Moscow's opinion, that would threaten the contract for the construction of the nuclear energy plant in Bushr.

On Monday, Vitaly Churkin expressed satisfaction with the progress of work on the resolution, though he added that several issues remain to be discussed, which were on the agenda for Tuesday. The participants in the discussions had even expressed cautious optimism: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the resolution on Iran could be adopted by Christmas. After William Brencick's imprudent mention of Belarus however, it looks like that that holiday wish may not be fulfilled.

Alexander Reutov