U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said the world body could join the United States and the European Union and impose sanctions on leaders on both sides of the South Sudan conflict if peace talks for the young nation do not make substantial progress soon.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Power said the United States stands firmly behind the regional bloc, the Intergovernment Authority on Development (IGAD), which has been trying for months to get the warring sides in South Sudan to reach a lasting peace deal.
But, she said, "IGAD is running out of patience."
"They are sitting down with the parties and making very clear that if this round of talks -- and particularl once the leaders are brought back into this round of talks -- do not succeed, IGAD and the Council are going to need to move out on these long-threatened sanctions."
Power also addressed a concern raised by South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday.
Mr. Kiir said he wants the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to focus on nation-building, which would include helping the young nation to establish viable institutions and promoting development, instead of protecting civilians. The U.N. Security Council changed the UNMISS mandate in May.
Power, who was president of the UN Security Council for the month of September, said the circumstances on the ground in South Sudan made it necessary for UNMISS's focus to change.
“Our assessment was that there was an urgent need - given the number of atrocities that were being carried out - for the mandate and the mission and the mindset of the peacekeepers to be focused on the welfare of civilians who were in grave peril, both because of attacks by government forces and opposition forces and affiliated militia, and because of the denial of humanitarian access to aid workers," Power said.
"We felt ... that if we are serious about helping the people of South Sudan, the number one priority needed to be those two things: civilian protection and provision of humanitarian access,” Power said.
Power says the Security Council is unlikely to return the mandate of UNMISS to its original focus any time soon.
"We can’t even begin to get to the conversation of when we start reverting to supporting government institutions because the urgency of the two tasks that the Council decided to focus on remains every bit as acute as it was when we changed the mandate in the first place," she said.
UNMISS's mandate will come up for renewal on November 14.