Under-Secretary-General Highlights Organization’s Joint Efforts with Arab League in Middle East, North Africa
Today’s challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, are a reminder of the wisdom of those who drafted the Charter of the United Nations 75 years ago, enshrining the potential role of regional arrangements in the maintenance of international peace and security, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council today.
Briefing Council members during their debate on United Nations cooperation with the League of Arab States, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo noted the growing evolution of cooperation with regional organizations encompasses such areas as preventive diplomacy, mediation, counter-terrorism, prevention of violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, human rights, climate change and, most recently, a collective response to the pandemic.
Describing COVID-19 as a stress test for the global community, she said the coronavirus has exacerbated strains on the multilateral system just as the need for solidarity and cooperation has never been more critical. Indeed, participants in the Secretary-General’s November high-level interactive dialogue with 23 regional and subregional organizations agreed on the pandemic’s multidimensional impact and pledged to work together to address that concern.
Despite the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, however, the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the stalled Middle East peace process and fissures among Arab League members have exacerbated regional instability, she said, adding that they have also hampered economic and social development.
Emphasizing that close cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League has been crucial in augmenting efforts to address various situations in the Arab world, she cited efforts to broker a ceasefire in Libya, uphold broad consensus on a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, support for Sudan’s transition to democratic governance and the pursuit of political solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
She went on to caution that challenges remain, noting: “Despite our efforts, heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf region persist.” However, the Secretary-General continues to call for restraint on all sides. “We urge all concerned, in the region and beyond, to opt for dialogue to address their respective security concerns,” she said. Despite important gains, including greater participation by women in peace processes, the United Nations and the Arab League recognize the urgent need to do more, she stressed.
Highlighting increased cooperation activities, she said the United Nations Liaison Office to the League of Arab States, established in 2019, has strengthened the partnership and facilitated regular contacts with special envoys. The fifteenth general cooperation meeting will advance a biennial framework encompassing activities in peace and security, development, human rights and humanitarian concerns, she added.
Underlining the Security Council’s critical role in amplifying collective efforts in the region, she said the impact of a united and actively engaged Council is incomparable. “We look to the Council, as a principal steward of Chapter VIII of the Charter, to continue to support the United Nations collaborative work with the League of Arab States to promote peace and prosperity in the Arab region.”
In the ensuing debate, delegates said that the web of pressing transboundary security threats reflects the critical need for enhanced coordination and effective new tools to deepen relations between the United Nations and the Arab League to better help States tackling a range of challenges, from COVID-19 to foreign terrorist fighters.
Speakers highlighted historical and ongoing efforts as well as current challenges, from combating terrorism to increasing women’s involvement in peace processes, with some commending the year-old United Nations Liaison Office to the Arab League and others outlining ways to forge further progress. Among other initiatives, delegates suggested the creation of a mechanism to effectively implement ceasefires and improvement of coordination initiatives. There is also need for renewed commitment to enhancing cooperation to better address and resolve crises, from Libya to Somalia, they said. Many speakers called for fresh efforts to advance a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urging the parties to return to peace talks.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, noting that a year and a half has passed since he last addressed the Council, said the Arab region is at a delicate juncture, with COVID-19 and ongoing crises and conflicts creating a “dangerous mix” that has taken a heavy toll. The marginalization of the two-State formula by the main mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led to the Government of Israel intensifying its settlement activities and threatening the annexation of occupied Palestinian lands, he noted, emphasizing that the League looks forward to the new Administration in the United States engaging in a fruitful political process. Doing so will give Palestinians renewed hope that the international community stands by their side in their quest for freedom and independence, he stressed.
It is apparent to all that interference by some regional powers in Arab affairs is destabilizing the region, he continued. In Syria, five countries have intervened militarily, undermining prospects for a political settlement while abandoning 90 per cent of Syrians to poverty in the face of sanctions and COVID‑19, he noted, declaring: “The ramifications of the Syrian crisis can no longer be ignored.” The conflict will have a deep impact on regional dynamics for years to come, he warned, calling for at least a minimal level of international consensus on the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015). Syria is an Arab country, he affirmed, underlining that those seeking to pull it out of the region will only increase the suffering of the Syrian people.
The situation in Yemen is equally dangerous, especially on the humanitarian level, he said, pointing out that some parts of the country are on the verge of starvation. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy must be supported by all parties in the next stage of the political process, building upon the momentum created by the creation of the new Government under the Riyadh Agreement, he said. A solution in Yemen is possible because the Yemeni people want it, he said, emphasizing that it is not in the interest of any Yemeni party to use the country to threaten its Gulf neighbours.
Turning to Libya, he said the Arab League is greatly encouraged by the agreement between the Government of National Accord and the LNA on a ceasefire, the launch of a dialogue and the resumption of oil production, among other steps. With the country at a crossroad, “we have to stand by our Libyan brothers” as they complete the political process and implement what Libyans have agreed themselves, he said. He went on to call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, compliance with Council resolutions, and a lasting solution to the threat posed by armed groups and militia.
Concerning other issues, he said the Arab League looks forward to ongoing coordination with the Council and the wider United Nations system, including on helping Sudan through its ongoing transition and supporting the Federal Government of Somalia to combat Al-Shabaab and prepare for elections. The Arab League is committed to supporting any effort that promotes security and stability in the Horn of Africa, he affirmed, expressing, in that regard, its firm support for the water rights of Egypt and Sudan. It also favours the successful negotiation of a legally binding agreement on filling and operating the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. The Arab League also stands with the countries of the Sahel region as they confront Boko Haram and other groups operating on the borders of the Arab world, he added.
Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia and Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing the need for a coordinated international approach to tackle sources of tension, conflict and development. As such, the Arab League must pool activities to fully enable people to benefit from the dividends of peace and security, he said. Urging all actors to enhance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to advance peace, he expressed support for dialogue in Libya and stressed the urgent need to settle the conflicts in Somalia, Syria and Yemen. He went on to state that all parties must honour the relevant Security Council resolutions on terrorism, the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Offering proposals for progress, he said a new coordination mechanism can enhance efforts to settle conflicts, calling for periodic meetings on the margins of the General Assembly alongside informal gatherings between the League and the Security Council to identify issues of common interest. He underlined the need to improve coordination on such issues, in addition to focusing on early warning systems and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Tunisia also calls for the prompt appointment of a head of the United Nations Liaison Office, he added.
The representative of Estonia, welcoming the normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab States, expressed hope that it will give impetus to reviving the Middle East peace process and the two-State formula. Noting that the Security Council and the Arab League have been in unison in calling for an end to violence in Libya, he said they have also been adamant about the need to find a political solution to the conflict. Moreover, peace is not possible without regional support, he emphasized. Thanking the League for its continued assistance to the Council in the implementation of the arms embargo on Libya, he also highlighted the regional bloc’s role in finding political solutions in Yemen and Syria.
The representative of China, echoing the Secretary-General’s call for a global humanitarian ceasefire, urged the international community to remain united in combating COVID-19 and saving lives. Special envoys and special representatives of the Secretary-General should step up their cooperation with the Arab League, he said. Terrorists must be prevented from taking advantage of the current situation, he said, adding that it is important to find political solutions to hot-spot issues, while underscoring the Arab League’s unique role in that regard. He went on to recall his country’s proposal for a multilateral dialogue platform in the region that would uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme. China calls for addressing the root causes of conflict through sustainable development, he said, noting the “long, deep and solid” relationship between his country and the Arab world.
The representative of the United States thanked the Arab League for working with his country for a peaceful and prosperous Middle East, going on to emphasize that the actions of the Assad regime in Syria, not sanctions, are preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching Syrians in need. Calling for a unified stance on that situation, he stressed that Syria will receive no reconstruction assistance unless the regime is fully committed to a political solution, as set out in resolution 2254 (2015). Hailing the Arab League’s May 2020 statement that condemned Iran’s efforts to undermine regional security and stability, he said that reconciliation among Gulf countries can contribute to a united front against that country. He went on to describe the Abraham Accords as a historic opportunity to advance regional peace, encouraging other League members to normalize relations with Israel in that regard.
The representative of Kenya said that, as the United Nations and the League both commemorate their seventy-fifth anniversaries and celebrate their many years of cooperation, it is sobering that the Arab region still faces a web of complex transboundary and security threats. That calls for intensifying coordination and partnership between the two entities in addressing the crises in the region with a focus on prevention, mediation, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and counter-terrorism, he emphasized. Noting that African countries constitute close to half of the regional bloc’s membership, he said the African Union and the League have a long-standing cooperation framework. A trilateral consultative exchange among the African Union, the Arab League and the Security Council, he added, can contribute to a more meaningful and even greater reach and capability in delivering peace, while adding forward momentum in addressing the situations in Libya, Sudan, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahel, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
The representative of India called upon all actors to immediately address the conflict-triggered displacement of millions of people, who also face food security and pandemic-related challenges. Regional and international involvement should ensure reconciliation and conflict resolution, he said, cautioning against attempts to delegitimize Governments, which have led nations away from negotiation processes. Meanwhile, the presence of foreign terrorist fighters threatens civilians, radicalizes youth and destabilizes society, he said, adding that these and other concerns amplify the relevance of the Arab League and the United Nations. More can be done to strengthen relations, including through greater policy synergy at the field level and beyond. Both should work harder to realize a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, calling upon the parties to renew dialogue.
The representative of Ireland said more is needed to fully exploit the potential of regional organizations to deliver on collective goals and encouraged the United Nations and the League of Arab States to strengthen their relationship, including through intensified coordination between the League and the Organization’s special envoys. While welcoming the Al-Ula Declaration by the member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt, he expressed concern that key elements — including on the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya — have not yet been implemented. As a leading contributor of troops to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Ireland remains committed to Lebanon’s stability, he said, adding that a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is critical to unlocking a better future for the Middle East.
The representative of Mexico said the complexity of current challenges requires concerted action, involving coordination between the United Nations and regional groups to identify threats and implement joint actions. Measures adopted globally must be accompanied by regional actions in order to be truly effective, he added. Regional organizations are essential in that regard, he emphasized, expressing support for the Arab League’s efforts. Recent tensions in the region reflect the need to strengthen coordination between the United Nations and the Arab League on such issues as counter-terrorism strategies, the role of women and conflict resolution, he said, calling for closer ties between the Organization’s special envoys and the League. He went on to encourage the promotion of the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.
The representative of France emphasized the need for an oversight mechanism regarding ceasefires. The guns must be silenced in Syria and Yemen, as political solutions are the only answer to the conflicts in those countries. Without a political solution on the horizon in Syria, France will not support its reconstruction, he said, welcoming the Arab League’s strong position on that issue. Calling for a just, lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that question, as well as the threat of terrorism, require unity in the Security Council. Turning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, he stressed that Tehran must honour its commitments. He went on to state that diplomatic efforts to broker reconciliation among Gulf States must continue. The Arab League’s involvement is invaluable in addressing those and other challenges, he noted. Reiterating France’s proposal for an annual Security Council meeting to address those issues, he said that its October meeting on the Gulf region demonstrated the benefits of addressing each issue separately.
The representative of Viet Nam said that the situation in the Arab region underscores the importance of cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations, including the Arab League, describing the establishment of the United Nations Liaison Office as a great example of a new level of cooperation. The Organization’s cooperation with regional entities should aim to uphold the purposes and principles of its Charter, especially respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and non-interference, he emphasized. Reiterating the need for the Security Council and the Arab League to strengthen their cooperation, he expressed support for further engagement by United Nations special representatives in that regard.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines welcomed the establishment of an annual Security Council briefing by the Arab League’s Secretary General as a step towards a more fruitful bilateral relationship. Noting that annual briefings have helped the United Nations strengthen its relationship with the African Union and the European Union, she expressed hope that the same will be true with the League. Concerning Palestine, she reaffirmed the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative and commended the Arab League’s engagement in promoting a comprehensive resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She went on to echo the call by Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for convening an international conference to launch a genuine peace process, emphasizing the Arab League’s critical role as an interlocutor.
The representative of the Russian Federation called for enhanced cooperation between the two organizations, including through the United Nations Liaison Office with the Arab League. Unfortunately, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa remains difficult, frequently due to foreign interference, he noted. Urgent steps must be taken to break the impasse over the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which remains the central issue in the region, he said. He went on to express hope that the normalization of relations between some Arab countries and Israel will not lead to the deprivation of Palestinian rights, emphasizing that regional actors should play a leading role in determining how differences are settled in the Middle East. The Russian Federation also calls for de-escalation in the Persian Gulf, where the actions of the United States Administration have increased tensions, he said.
The representative of Norway pointed to a “new regional dynamic” in the Middle East, with several Arab League members normalizing relations with Israel. That dynamic might open the way for renewed efforts to negotiate a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, encouraging greater coordination between the Council and the League in that regard. She encouraged the League, in cooperation with others, to assume a more prominent role in promoting regional peace, stability and reconciliation, and to intensify contacts with United Nations special envoys. Possible areas of cooperation include support for networks of women mediators and tackling issues related to climate and security, she suggested.
The representative of Niger, noting that the level of cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League has not always been as high as expected, particularly on the Libya dossier, expressed hope that cooperation will be strengthened in the future. He said neither party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will achieve their legitimate aspirations without a negotiated solution based on relevant Council resolutions. The conflicts in Syria and Yemen cannot be resolved through military means, he added. Emphasizing that cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League must cover humanitarian challenges, he said emergency aid should first come from the region, pointing out that international assistance is more difficult to deliver due to political factors.
The representative of the United Kingdom said the Arab League continues to play an important role in promoting regional peace and security. Welcoming the bloc’s continued suspension of Syria, she said her country will not consider funding the reconstruction of that country without a political process firmly under way. Also welcoming the recent Arab-Israeli normalization agreements, she said dialogue triumphs over hostility, while emphasizing that the closer ties and benefits arising from those agreements must also be extended to the Palestinians. She went on to note that the region faces COVID-19 and climate change and that the upcoming United Nations climate change conference provides an opportunity to address both. The United Kingdom trusts that the United Nations and the Arab League will continue to lead the way in doing that, she added.
Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, spoke on behalf of the Arab Group, saying that collective efforts are the only way to find effective solutions to the complex situations facing the region. Today’s meeting should be held annually, he said, encouraging more formal gatherings between the Arab League and the Council. With a view to finding local solutions to problems, Arab nations must have an amplified voice in discussions, he emphasized, adding that unity in the Council is also essential. He went on to state that limiting the veto would be helpful when addressing such issues as weapons of mass destruction and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Early warning systems should be improved for the benefit of both the Arab League and the United Nations, alongside periodic assessments of the United Nations Liaison Office. Going forward, young people must be central in efforts to overcome current and emerging challenges, he said, stressing also that the participation of women in peace processes will only increase their chances of success. More broadly, solutions to crises hinge on cooperation among stakeholders at the regional and international levels, he said, looking forward to a future of peace in which the region’s countries will no longer be on the Council’s agenda.