US wants UN to focus on Iran instead of Israel

US wants UN to focus on Iran instead of Israel

Observers say the US seeks to portray Iran as a criminal enterprise, not just as another ‘bad’ country

United Nations: After her first UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East in February, US Ambassador Nikki Haley knocked the organisation’s “anti-Israel bias.”

On Thursday, Haley will try to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran, the latest target of the Trump administration’s tough talk.

Haley, who holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations’ top decision-making body for April, wants to use a monthly meeting on “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” to tackle Tehran’s role in Yemen and Syria and its support for Hezbollah, topics she sees as more central to the theme of Middle East peace.

“Incredibly, the UN Department of Political Affairs has an entire department devoted to Palestinian affairs,” Haley said after the February meeting.

“There is no division devoted to the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terror, Iran.”

But getting the 15-member Security Council to change its focus will be tough.

The Security Council has kept an often critical focus on Israel for years, and Arab nations — including US allies in the region — would resist shifting that emphasis.

The council has been receiving monthly reports highlighting the “Palestinian question” since 2000 and holding a debate on the topic each quarter since 2010. Plus, quarterly reports on Israel’s expansion of housing colonies are now required under a resolution critical of the US ally. Former President Barack Obama allowed the council to pass that measure in the closing weeks of his administration by having the US abstain rather than exercise its veto power.

Thursday’s report will be presented by Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. While Mladenov, who declined to comment when contacted, is expected to focus again on Israel and the Palestinians, Haley can prod the discussion toward other issues. But her message may be undercut by continuing questions about President Donald Trump’s approach to Iran.

“The Trump administration needs a grand plan on how to curb Iran’s influence, and right now I don’t see a plan,” said Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

If the US decided to breach the nuclear accord, it would come in conflict with global powers, including European allies, China and Russia, that continue to support it.

At the same time, the Iran deal angered traditional US allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, which says it’s battling Iranian proxies in a war in neighbouring Yemen.

Iranian troops and Hezbollah allies also have backed Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, whose regime Trump targeted with cruise missiles this month following a chemical attack.

The US seeks “to portray Iran as a criminal enterprise, not just as another bad country but as a rogue state that is engaged in horrible crimes across the region,” said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute in Washington. “We are moving from a position of accommodation to one of confrontation across multiple fronts.”

Defence Secretary James Mattis, on a tour of the Middle East, said Wednesday in Riyadh that the US will “reinforce Saudi Arabia’s resistance to Iran’s mischief and make you more effective with your military.”

But even with Haley’s leadership role this month, Tehran’s alliance with Russia, which holds veto power in the Security Council, means any resolution condemning Iran’s regional influence is unlikely to pass.