World / Science & Health

U.N. Security Council to hold first coronavirus talks Thursday

AFP-JIJI

The U.N. Security Council will hold its first meeting on the coronavirus pandemic Thursday, after weeks of division 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 nonpermanent members formally requested a meeting featuring a presentation by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Meeting confirmed for Thursday,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity. It is reportedly to be held behind closed doors at 3 p.m.

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?

Last week, the U.N. 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.

Russia has tried to oppose the text, but only four other countries backed Moscow’s 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.

Several sources also said France was hesitating about the need for talks.

Paris has been trying since last week to get the council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — to sit down for a videoconference to settle their differences.

Sources said France would prefer that call take place before any full gathering of the council’s 15 member nations.

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 nonpermanent member, South Africa, did not support the move, saying the council’s remit is 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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