Nikki Haley previewed a potential showdown at the Security Council between Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani. Both men are expected to be in New York during the annual UN General Assembly later this month. And now there is a very good chance that they will sit face-to-face around the dais.

This is all made possible by a quirk of the calendar. The United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month. This means that the United States has the opportunity to set the Security Council’s calendar for the month of September, which includes the annual opening of the UN General Assembly when heads of state descend on New York.

This means the United States has the opportunity to preside over a meeting of the Security Council on a topic of its choosing at a time when other foreign leaders are in town. In a press conference yesterday, Ambassador Haley announced that President Trump will preside over a meeting about Iran during UN week.

There is a very decent chance that a meeting intended to highlight Iran’s nefarious role in world affairs will instead leave the United States isolated.

In September 2009, the US held the rotating presidency of the Security Council and President Obama chaired a meeting focused on nuclear non-proliferation. IN 2014, Obama chaired a meeting on counter-terrorism. Both meetings were to demonstrate American leadership over an issue that has broad international support.  On the other hand, a Security Council meeting on Iran, chaired by Donald Trump, may have the opposite impact. It may show the extent to which the United States has abdicated leadership on an issue that had broad support.

Since Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program transformed from one in which there was profound unanimity at the Security Council to one in which the United States stands alone. During the Obama administration, the Security Council collectively leveled intense sanctions against Iran. Then, the Security Council collectively endorsed the Iran Nuclear Deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Council unanimously agreed to ease those sanctions and endorsed an aggressive inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran continues to comply with the strictures of the deal. But the United States, under Trump, is now seeking to undermine that deal — which means undermining a decision of the Security Council.  That does not sit well with the other members of the Security Council.

The United Kingdom and France still vigorously support the deal. As do China and Russia. This Security Council meeting may be very diplomatically awkward for the United States. Furthermore, the rules of procedure at the Security Council give representatives of a country that is being discussed the opportunity to attend and speak at the council meeting.  This means that Hassan Rouhani (who has complied with the deal) will have the opportunity to directly confront Donald Trump (who has not) on live TV, with the world watching.

There is a very decent chance that a meeting intended to highlight Iran’s nefarious role in world affairs will instead leave the United States isolated.

From an American perspective, the diplomatic gains from a decision to hold this meeting are hard to understand. But it does have the potential to make for a televised spectacle.

 

 

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