Two meetings taking place outside the United Nations in New York will greatly impact the work of the Security Council in the weeks ahead. The first is the crucial and expected week-long International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting in Vienna, Austria, where 35 members will determine if Iran is indeed referred to the Security Council for council action regarding its refusal so far to comply with board demands to renounce uranium enrichment and agree to the additional protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that permits surprise inspections.
As the board opened its session Monday, IAEA director Mohammed Elbaradei of Egypt held out cautious hope that a diplomatic agreement was still possible with Russia and others and a referral might be avoided. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has accused Iran of engaging in "doublespeak" during the negotiations. Bolton says Iran has been "flatly refusing" to give up its ambitions for a nuclear weapons program.
In any case, diplomats at the U.N. say the Security Council (because of differences among the 15 members) would deal with Iran's nuclear activities in "various stages" if the issue comes before them. The first step would likely be closed-door consultations. Last week, some diplomats (including British Amb. Emyr Jones Parry) were expecting that initial Security Council action would include "backing up" IAEA demands on Iran and demanding immediate compliance. But as one diplomat put it, "if they don't, then the $64,000 question is what would the council do next?"
The second key meeting outside the U.N. is that of the African Union on Friday. The union will decide whether to approve the transfer of its 7,000-member force in Darfur to the U.N. The AU had previously agreed in principle to do so, but heavy lobbying by the Sudanese government against it has been underway. U.N. and U.S. officials want a U.N. takeover, believing that a larger, more mobile operation with air power would be more effective in dealing with the violence and atrocities in Darfur. However, most council members want the AU's blessing. Sudan has warned that if a U.N. operation (with possible Western help) is based in Darfur, al-Qaida might return to the country.
Meanwhile, Security Council members have their work cut out for them this week dealing with an array of other issues and conflicts ranging from Somalia (which is still without a central government and security and humanitarian conditions are deteriorating) to the future status of Kosovo. They have their monthly lunch with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Friday.