UN Security Council to hold first coronavirus talks, but some not on board
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UN Security Council to hold first coronavirus talks, but some not on board

5 permanent members divided on how to address pandemic, with US demanding recognition that virus first emerged in China; Beijing, Moscow said opposed to Thursday meeting

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres⁦ giving a virtual briefing on April 3, 2020. (Loey Felipe/UN)
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres⁦ giving a virtual briefing on April 3, 2020. (Loey Felipe/UN)

NEW YORK — The UN Security Council will on Thursday hold its first meeting on the coronavirus pandemic — by videoconference — after weeks of divisions among its five permanent members, diplomats said Monday.

Last week, exasperated by the back-and-forth that has paralyzed the council, including between China and the United States, nine of the 10 non-permanent members formally requested a meeting featuring a presentation by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Meeting confirmed for Thursday,” one diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. It was to be held behind closed doors at 3:00 p.m. local time (10 p.m. in Israel.)

It’s not yet clear what form the meeting will take, or what could be accomplished: will the member nations show unity in the fact of a global crisis and a willingness to cooperate, or proceed with a settling of scores?

The New York-based Security Council has been teleconferencing since March 12 as the new coronavirus spreads rapidly in the city.

Last week, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution calling for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” in the fight against COVID-19 — the first text to come out of the world body since the outbreak began.

Illustrative: The UN Security Council holds a meeting, at United Nations headquarters, November 20, 2019. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Russia has tried to oppose the text, but only four other countries backed its parallel draft.

The United States has long demanded that any meeting or text specify that the virus first emerged in China, to Beijing’s consternation.

Diplomats said Monday that opposition to holding a council meeting was coming from the Chinese and the Russians.

Moscow and Beijing say they only believe the council should consider the pandemic when they are talking about a country experiencing conflict, the diplomats said.

According to several diplomats, France been trying since last week to organize a videoconference with leaders of the five permanent member countries to try to iron out differences, and would prefer that is done before a meeting of the 15-member council.

Along with France, the permanent members are Britain, China, Russia and the US.

The nine countries that requested the meeting are Germany, which spearheaded the effort, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Indonesia, Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam.

The final non-permanent member, South Africa, did not support the move, saying the council’s remit was peace and security, not health and economic issues.

For those nine countries, it’s “really irresponsible to block” a council meeting and to “paralyze” the institution since the start of the crisis, a diplomat from one of them said.

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