Building on a “trajectory of unity” that had begun with the Security Council’s recent adoption of two important Middle East resolutions, Olof Skoog (Sweden), Council President for January, said the 15-member body would focus on issues ranging from Colombia to the Lake Chad Basin, hold a ministerial-level open debate on the maintenance of international peace and security and work to make its overall methods more results-oriented.
“We have to make the best of the momentum that exists now,” he said, referring to the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016) condemning Israeli settlements on 23 December and resolution 2336 (2016) on 31 December expressing support for efforts by Turkey and the Russian Federation to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Sweden — one of five newly elected non-permanent members of the Council — had hosted the Council’s first informal meeting of 2017 this morning, he said, noting that member States had agreed that their service was both a privilege and a huge responsibility. Emphasizing the need to produce the kinds of outcomes “that the world expects”, he added that the Council was not always as effective as it should be, and that his delegation hoped to change the way things had been going.
In the last few days, he said, he had met with new Secretary-General António Guterres who had expressed his strong wish to build a trustful and active working relationship with the Council, in line with his vision of “putting peace at the centre”. Through its work over the month, it hoped to establish a regular, proactive relationship with Mr. Guterres, who would brief the Council on 10 January during an open ministerial-level debate on the maintenance of international peace and security.
During that debate, he said, the Council expected Mr. Guterres to put forward his vision of international peace and security, including the important element of prevention. Support from Member States at the ministerial level would send a strong signal to those that had recently questioned the effectiveness of multilateralism “that the United Nations is coming together”.
Highlighting some of the topic issues that would come before the Council in January, he said Syria would be discussed on three tracks — chemical weapons, political and humanitarian. While all members were hopeful that the current ceasefire would hold, many concerns remained. Among the issues to be discussed were the results of the upcoming meeting slated to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan, and how humanitarian aid would proceed.
While the Council remained worried about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, there was an overall sense of relief that an agreement had been reached at the end of 2016. The issue was scheduled to come before the Council on 11 January, but action to endorse the agreement could be taken up before that date.
The Colombian peace process, an item recently added to the Council’s agenda, would be also be considered on 11 January, he said. Meanwhile, a discussion on the Lake Chad Basin — a region where the impacts of climate change and the terrorist activities of Boko Haram had created an “explosive cocktail” — would be taken up on the following day.
On 17 January, the Council would hold an open debate on the Middle East, he said, noting that France was organizing a conference on the issue on 15 January. He hoped that the meeting, along with the Council’s recent adoption of resolution 2334 (2016) would trigger action towards a two-State solution.
Other worrying issues included the situation in Mali, where non-State actors were making the implementation of the peace agreement difficult, he said, noting that the matter would be addressed on 18 January. Also on the agenda were a briefing on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, Somalia and other situations of concern in Africa. In that regard, he stressed that “we want to make sure the region is heard” and that the Council coordinated properly with the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other regional partners.
Noting that the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus was up for a mandate renewal, he nevertheless noted that peace talks were ongoing, and expressed his hope that a political solution would be reached over the course of the month. If that happened, there would be a need to revisit how the United Nations supported the implementation of such an agreement.
Mr. Skoog then responded to a number of questions from correspondents. To a question on how the Council would follow up to the Paris Middle East conference, he said while it might be possible for the body to “add value” with an outcome of some sort, it was too early to tell.
Responding to a question on the Council’s planned consultations on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons report, he said the question of accountability would be addressed. However, it was too early to know if there was unity on the matter, as the Council had five new members.
Asked why the “forgotten”, but “bloody” conflict in Yemen was listed in a footnote to the Council’s January schedule, he responded that the body hoped to take the matter up on a date that would make it possible to be briefed on progress in the political process. He expected that would happen sometime in January.
He then responded to a similar question about Libya’s absence on the agenda, noting that the Council would prefer to schedule a meeting “when there is something to report”.
To a question about whether nuclear disarmament and the issue of weapons of mass destruction would be addressed in January, he urged Member States to raise the matter during the 10 January open debate.
Asked whether the issue of terrorism and violent extremism would be addressed during that debate, and whether there was any intent to produce an outcome document, he said that terrorism, violent extremism and non-State actors were part of the reason the Council had recently been hampered in its actions. “The modernization of asymmetric warfare and terrorism has put the Security Council on the spot,” he said, adding that it needed to calibrate its response in a more effective way. He expected both Member States and the Secretary-General to raise the matter during the open debate, and hoped that broad support would emerge for the latter’s vision. However, there would be no formal negotiated outcome.
To a question on whether the Council would pursue another resolution on Israeli settlements, he said the next step in the Middle East peace process was the Paris conference, whose outcome would direct the Council’s quarterly discussion.
In response to a question about the situation in South Sudan, which he said had been “left hanging” in 2016, he said he expected the matter to come up in January. While it was important that the Council come together on that front, it must also collect wisdom from regional actors.
A number of questions were also raised about the incoming Administration of United States President-elect Donald Trump, including about his recent comments on social media that the United Nations was a “club” where people “have a good time”. To that, he responded that multilateralism worked in the interest of all countries, including the United States. The United Nations worked very hard and had made major strides in such areas as climate and development, he said, affirming the Council’s intention to work both with the current Administration and the incoming one over the month of January.
In that vein, he was asked about recent discussions about a potential United States move to cut funding for the Organization, and responded that there was apprehension about such comments. However, it was best to wait and see what happened, as various confirmations were outstanding in the United States Congress. He pledged to work closely with the incoming United States Mission and to reach out to the Trump Administration at the appropriate time.
For the Council's full programme of work, please see https://www.un.org/en/sc/programme.