Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.
UN chief makes brief trip to Ukraine
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday assailed Russia’s yearlong invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law as he arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine, for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on extending grain shipments from the war-torn country and securing the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The two men met on Thursday in the Ukrainian capital.
UN nuclear board meets following chief’s visit to Tehran
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors met this week in Vienna. Part of its discussions centered on Iran and its nuclear program. Agency chief Rafael Grossi traveled to Iran’s capital, Tehran, last week after reports the IAEA found traces at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant of uranium particles enriched to 83.7% — just below the weapons grade threshold of about 90%. Iran said it would cooperate with the agency’s investigation of the particles. Tehran denies seeking a nuclear bomb and says the resource is only for civilian purposes.
UN buys oil tanker to start salvage operation off Yemen
The United Nations said Thursday it has purchased a $55 million vessel to transfer more than a million barrels of oil from a neglected tanker that threatens Yemen’s Red Sea coast, and the salvage operation is planned for early May. The U.N. has warned for several years that the 47-year-old FSO Safer supertanker is a ticking time bomb that could leak, sink or explode, unleashing a massive ecological and humanitarian catastrophe. David Gressly, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the tanker purchase is “the most significant step forward” in resolving the issue in many years.
Commission on status of women gets underway
At the start of the Commission on the Status of Women on Monday, Secretary-General Guterres warned that at the current pace, gender equality is projected to be 300 years away. He warned that progress is “vanishing before our eyes” as women’s rights “are being abused, threatened and violated around the world.”
Wednesday marked International Women’s Day. While there was a lot of talk about empowering women and protecting their rights, there was little action at U.N. meetings. [[At UN on International Women’s Day, Talk of Women’s Rights, Little Action
— Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the announcement Friday that adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to resume diplomatic relations in the next two months. The deal was agreed to in Beijing, which hosted talks between the two countries. Guterres said good neighborly relations between Tehran and Riyadh are essential for the stability of the Gulf region, and he offered his good offices to further advance regional dialogue. The development comes as the U.N. and other nations have been working to end the war in Yemen, a conflict in which both Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply involved.
— March 11 will mark 12 years since Syria’s civil war began with a crackdown on anti-government protesters that turned into a full-out conflict that has killed thousands and launched a massive refugee crisis. The suffering has been compounded by the February 6 earthquake. Secretary-General Guterres said support that has come for earthquake survivors must be channeled into the political track, and he called for peace in a statement marking the anniversary. He said, “Now is the time for us to act in unison, to secure a nationwide cease-fire, advance the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, and create the conditions necessary for the voluntary return of refugees in safety and dignity, with our strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria, and to regional stability.”
— The World Health Organization said Wednesday that it had fired its regional director for the Western Pacific following an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct. The WHO probe was triggered by an investigation published by The Associated Press in January last year in which more than two dozen staff members accused Dr. Takeshi Kasai of racist, abusive and unethical behavior that may have undermined the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He denied the charges.
— The U.N. Security Council is on a field mission to the Congo from March 9-12. The ambassadors are there to assess the security situation and implementation of the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s mandate. They are meeting senior Congolese officials in Kinshasa and plan travel to Goma, in the violence-plagued east.
— International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Rafael Grossi was confirmed Friday by the agency’s Board of Governors for a second four-year term. Grossi expressed appreciation for his reappointment and said it comes at a time when “we face many major challenges, and I’m fully committed to continue to do everything in my power to implement the IAEA’s crucial mission in support of global peace and development.” His new term starts December 3 and runs until December 2, 2027.
Quote of note
“Discrimination diminishes us all. And it is incumbent on all of us to stand up against it. We must never be bystanders to bigotry.”
— Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to a U.N. meeting Friday marking the international day to combat Islamophobia.
What we are watching next week
The package deal that facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer products to international markets will expire on March 18. If neither party objects to its renewal, it will automatically continue. But Russia has made noises about the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the corresponding Memorandum of Understanding for Russian food and fertilizer, saying Moscow is not benefiting enough. Secretary-General Guterres made a brief trip to Ukraine, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday to discuss the deal. Next week, senior U.N. and Russian officials are set to meet in Geneva to discuss implementation. Under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine has exported more than 23 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs from three ports since the deal was signed in late July.