The United Nations Security Council will hold a ministerial level meeting on Monday to discuss the situation in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. It will also provide an opportunity to highlight the deteriorating situation in the latest Arab Spring battlefield, Syria.
Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation Security Council, is organizing the special session and Foreign Secretary William Hague will chair the meeting. Three foreign ministers from Arab Spring countries - Libya, Tunisia and Egypt - have been invited to address the council, as has the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.
Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Philip Parham, says the debate will aim to look at the change that has been happening in the Middle East and the challenges and opportunities that it presents.
"Each council member will be able to speak about whichever aspects of that they most wish to, but we hope that it will be largely a forward looking, positive debate about the challenges and the opportunities, and about how the international community can contribute constructively and positively to the process of change in the Middle East," said Parham.
Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. analyst with the Century Foundation, says he expects the year-old Syrian crisis to be a focus of the session.
"Whenever you have a foreign ministers-level meeting of the Security Council, you really have to be dealing with the issues that are most burning on the international agenda, and of all the Arab Spring issues, what is most burning is Syria," said Laurenti. "This is not a meeting at which resolutions get hammered out, but it is a meeting at which one can hope to see some possible convergence, particularly among that inner circle of the five permanent members, the major powers, on the Security Council."
The permanent members, plus Arab member Morocco, have been negotiating the text of a draft resolution aimed at providing humanitarian access to Syria. On Friday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that those efforts do not appear to be bearing fruit.
"We have been consulting all week in New York on whether we could do a somewhat narrower resolution that nonetheless was supportive of the effort to get humanitarian relief in," said Nuland. "I have to tell you that, based on where we are today, the P5+ Morocco consultations we had have not resulted in an agreed text. We are frankly, not overly optimistic that an agreed text will be reached in the future."
Several Security Council members will be represented at the foreign minister level. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending, as is her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the two are expected to have a bilateral meeting.
U.S.-Russia relations have been strained recently and Moscow’s use of its Security Council veto not once, but twice, to block action against its close ally, Syria, has not helped. This will be the first time the two diplomats have met since Vladimir Putin was returned to the Russian presidency with the majority of the vote, but in an election the United States noted had irregularities.
Jeffrey Laurenti says Syria and Iran will certainly come up during the Clinton-Lavrov talks.
"Syria is certainly going to be high on their bilateral agenda; Iran is going to be very high, now that you have, once again coming back to life, negotiations of the P5+1 and Iran on its nuclear program," said Laurenti.
Laurenti adds that the Russians would also probably try to get the Palestinian-Israeli issue back on the agenda. He says it has been "completely lost" in the heat of an American presidential campaign that the Israelis have tried to refocus on Iran, and in the midst of the Arab Spring, which has been a big diversion for the West and Arab states.
Diplomats in New York say they also expect the Middle East Quartet to meet on the sidelines of the Security Council. The Palestinian-Israeli peace process has been stalled despite a Quartet initiative in September to move the parties to reopen direct talks. Monday’s gathering of ministers would give the group, which comprises the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union, an opportunity to evaluate its next steps.