Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley will be among 15 ambassadors in Sweden for an annual brainstorming session
AFP

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat that could help them recover some common ground.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia will be among the 15 ambassadors joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway, said Sweden’s Deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau.

The three-day retreat beginning Friday comes after one of the council’s most divisive periods, with the United States and Russia split over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma that lead to military action by Washington and its allies against Syria.

The council met five times on Syria last week including on Tuesday when Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution setting up a chemical weapons probe while two other proposed measures failed to pass.

Guterres declared that the Cold War was “back with a vengeance.”

“It’s not news to anyone that the council is divided on Syria,” said Skau. “There is some need for humility and patience at this moment.”

The council will be staying at Backakra, the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, who was the United Nations’ second secretary-general.

Skau said the residence located on the southern tip of Sweden, far from Stockholm, was a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy.

“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.

The annual brainstorming session usually takes place in upstate New York, but Sweden, which is a non-permanent council member, offered to host this year’s gathering.

Guterres had told council members that the focus of the meeting would be his plan for a “surge of diplomacy” to address conflicts worldwide, but the council’s deadlock over Syria is emerging as the top priority.

Sweden has presented a draft resolution on sending a UN mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile once and for all. In February, it led negotiations with Kuwait on a ceasefire resolution that never materialized.

France, the United States and Britain have put forward their own measure that addresses the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the need to re-energize peace talks.

The retreat will not primarily be a negotiating session on the various draft resolutions on Syria, said Skau, but he did not rule out such talks.

Sweden is worried that divisions on Syria could spill over and affect diplomacy on other conflicts, plunging the council into all-out paralysis. 

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