Bowing to Russian pressure, UN chief won’t say Iran drones used in Ukraine – report

Guterres’ assessment to Security Council on Iranian adherence to nuclear deal will examine ban on supplying drones and missiles, but is said to not accuse Tehran of violation

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks ahead of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia on November 14, 2022. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks ahead of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia on November 14, 2022. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

An upcoming report to the UN Security Council reportedly will not accuse Iran of supplying Russia with attack drones for use in Ukraine, amid pressure from Moscow on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to refrain from ordering an investigation of the matter.

Citing two diplomats from Western Security Council member nations, Axios reported Wednesday that Russia has strongly pressed Guterres and his advisers not to order a probe, and has even threatened to end cooperation on other issues regarding Ukraine, including ensuring that vital global grain supplies continue.

“The Secretariat is examining the available information,” Guterres writes in the UN report, as leaked to Axios. “Any findings will be reported to the Security Council, as appropriate, in due course.”

One unnamed Western official was quoted as saying that Guterres must “not give in to pressure from Russia” and should immediately order an investigation of the drones.

The US and European powers accuse Iran of supplying Russia with drones and are demanding a UN investigation. Russia says that Guterres can only order a probe if the Security Council decides to do so, but, as a permanent member, it would likely veto any such move. However, the two diplomats said the UN’s legal adviser and undersecretary of political affairs are in agreement that Guterres can send experts to Ukraine, saying similar actions have been taken in the past in the Middle East.

The leaked report addresses Iran’s compliance with its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Part of the JCPOA was laid out in UN Resolution 2231, which bans Iran from supplying ballistic missiles and drones with a range of over 300 kilometers and a payload of more than 500 kilograms until October 2023.

Western officials believe Iran has supplied Russia with its Shahed 136 drone, which is thought to have a range greater than 300 kilometers, but a warhead of up to just 50 kilograms.

A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

According to Axios, Guterres says in the report that he has received letters from representatives of the US, UK, France, Germany, and Ukraine claiming that Iran provided drones to Russia “in a manner inconsistent with” Resolution 2231. However, he also notes that he received documents from Iran and Russia denying the claims and stressing that any drones Iran may have provided do not violate the terms of the resolution.

Iran has admitted to supplying drones to Russia in the past, but claims they were delivered before Moscow invaded its neighbor in February 2022. Washington claims to have evidence showing more recent supplies of the weapons.

A spokesperson for Guterres said in a statement that the UN secretariat “is ready to analyze any information brought to its attention by member states that is relevant to the report.”

The US State Department said in a statement that “Iran, in violation of Resolution 2231, provided Russia with drones to wreak havoc and inflict destruction on Ukrainian civilians. Russia, in violation of Resolution 2231, procured them.”

“There is no doubt that the transfer occurred without approval by the council, and thus in violation of Resolution 2231,” the statement said.

The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to an Axios request for comment.

This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

Letters obtained by the news site show that since October, Guterres has been caught in a dispute between the two sides on whether the UN should send an investigative team to Ukraine. Four diplomats directly involved in the matter confirmed the situation.

A UN source was quoted describing the situation Guterres finds himself in, with both sides pushing their case.

“Every week the secretary-general received letters from each side with completely contradictory information,” the source said. “There was a lot of pressure from both sides, and the secretary-general had to walk a very fine line.”

The UN source added that the US has in recent weeks asked Guterres several times to pass on messages to Iran warning that it will face consequences for supplying drones to Russia. Guterres has held a number of phone calls with Iranian officials on the matter, and on December 2 spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

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