Jordan assumes UN Security Council chair after Saudi Arabia rejected seat

Amman assumes presidency of Security Council as a last-minute stand-in for Saudi Arabia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 1:00am

Jordan took over the UN Security Council presidency yesterday, beginning its two-year stint on a 15-nation body struggling to cope with conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali and elsewhere.

Jordan will join Chad, Chile, Lithuania and Nigeria on the council until December 31, 2015. The UN General Assembly elected Amman in early December as a replacement for Saudi Arabia after Riyadh turned down the seat in protest at the council's failure to end the Syrian war and act on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other Middle East issues.

Although Jordan was a last-minute stand-in for the Saudi kingdom, Amman's UN ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, has a reputation at the United Nations for his outspoken stance on human rights issues, UN diplomats say.

In April, Zeid helped organise a boycott of a General Assembly meeting on international justice organised by Vuk Jeremic, a Serbian politician who headed the UN General Assembly.

Several Security Council diplomats said Zeid might turn out to be an influential member of the most powerful UN body, even though Jordan, like the other temporary members, would not have the veto power wielded by the five permanent council nations - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

"Although Jordan got into the Security Council by default, Prince Zeid is one of the best-known ambassadors around the UN and a genuinely thoughtful critic of the organisation," said Richard Gowan, an international relations expert at New York University. "He could prove to be a surprisingly weighty voice in council debates."

As president of the council for January, Zeid will organise briefings on the delayed destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and the escalating conflict in South Sudan, as well as the situation in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan's Western Darfur region.

Another change in the council's composition is that at least one-third of its ambassadors this year will be women - Samantha Power of the United States, Maria Cristina Perceval of Argentina, Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, Raimonda Murmokaite of Lithuania and Joy Ogwu of Nigeria.

This change could lead to more council meetings like the informal session Luxembourg and Britain are planning that will focus on women's participation in the Syrian transition process, if a peace agreement is reached.