Monday, May 28, 2007

24 May, 1967 - The Scene at The UN

At the insistence of Canada and Denmark, the Security Council met on 24 May to discuss the situation in the Middle East and the threat to international peace and security. Statements were made by representatives of the Great Powers and other members of the Council. During 23-25 May, Secretary-General U Thant visited Cairo and met President Nasser for talks on the situation. Upon his return, he proposed, on 27 May, a breathing spell and called for the return of Israel to the Egyptian-Israel Mixed Armistice Commission, assuring the Council that all that Egypt wanted was the return to conditions which prevailed prior to 1956. The United States supported the proposal, but, together with Israel, insisted on the lifting of the blockade. Egypt insisted on its right to bar Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran, which it designated ---a national waterway subject to absolute Arab sovereignty."

The Council adjourned on 3 June, without coming to any decision.

The Galilean Word will bring you the associated excerpts from speeches in the debate each day this week:

Excerpts from the Security Council Debates, 24 May, 1967

Source: PM Office

Mr. Fedorenko (USSR)

The Soviet Union delegation also deems it necessary to point out that it sees no adequate grounds for such haste in convening the Security Council and for the artificial dramatization of the situation by the representatives of the Western Powers, which are obviously relying on the method of piling up the stage effects. It is highly significant that -not without suitable stage direction, naturally - it was two NATO countries nowhere near the Middle East, rather than any of the parties directly concerned, which took the initiative in having the Security Council urgently convened.

The question involuntarily arises: is it not a case here of a hidden desire to interfere in someone else's business, rather than a true concern for peace and security in the Middle East?

Mr. Tarabanov (Bulgaria)

The delegation of the People's Republic of Bulgaria believes that at the present time there was really no need for an urgent meeting of the Security Council, as our colleague from Mali has just said and as was said earlier in the statement made by the representative of the Soviet Union, at the beginning of this meeting. The only purpose of such a meeting, as of all the activity during the last few days on the part of certain Powers and certain representatives, is the false dramatization of a situation which these countries and certain of their representatives have helped to create by their previous activities. For some time, we have been witnessing events in the Middle East which have left these countries and their representatives unconcerned and even, apparently, quite cheerful. You are familiar with the reports which we have received here, at least those appearing in the press. Now that those events have met with a response - as was to be expected - these same Powers are seeking to create an atmosphere charged with excitement, which will serve their interests and prepare the ground for and perhaps camouflage future intervention in the affairs of the peoples of the Middle East.

The delegation of the People's Republic of Bulgaria does not wish to be a party to these manoeuvres. Indeed, our country has a particular interest in maintaining peace and security in the Middle East. We are immediate neighbours of that region, where the imperialist Powers are now seeking to intervene under one pretext or another, in one form or another. My delegation is thus opposed to all these manoeuvres and we believe that holding a meeting of the Security Council at this time will only serve the interests of the forces of intervention and aggression in the Middle East.

My colleague to the left, the representative of Canada - with whom I have, incidentally, been on friendly terms ever since he came to the United Nations - has made several references to the report by the Secretary-General. It is, however, interesting to note that the Secretary-General, whose report has been quoted here in this way, did not himself request a meeting of the Security Council - as he had the right to do because he did not consider that the situation called for such a meeting at the moment.

We were amazed also to hear the outgoing President of the Security Council, who presided over the Council during the month of April, tell us that he had received very disquieting reports. We wonder why he did not take action at the time when he received those disquieting reports and when the situation, which certain Powers are now trying to dramatize, was systematically building up. This is really amazing. It is a further reason not to hold a useless meeting - which might even be detrimental to peace - at this time, when the seat of the President of this Council is occupied, as we have said, by someone who represents nobody, or, at least, does not represent the country which he claims to represent.

Mr. Seydoux (France)

Throughout the various informal consultations which preceded the request for a meeting of the Security Council by the representatives of Canada and Denmark, my delegation expressed doubts as to the usefulness of holding an urgent meeting of the Council. In expressing this view, my delegation is not seeking to question the role which the Security Council must play in the matter which it is proposed should be entered on its agenda. Our fear - our only fear - is that, by engaging the Security Council in public discussions at this stage, we might make the consultations now taking place between the various countries concerned even more difficult. In the opinion of the French delegation, we must avoid anything which might only serve to aggravate the present climate. The main thing is that the holding of consultations be allowed under the least unfavourable conditions possible. We should therefore not have been opposed to a request for an adjournment for twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours, if such a request had been made.

This Council meeting cannot dramatize a situation which at this moment is at the centre of the stage of world concern. It can, however, play a role, as we hope, in drawing the curtain on a tragedy which potentially threatens the peace and well-being of all the people in the area and, indeed, of all mankind. And it is a reflection, if I may say so, on the members of the Council to believe that any member of this Council is so irresponsible that he would want to say anything here that would in any way militate against the Secretary-General's mission or against a pacification of the tense situation in the area.

Mr. Tabor (Denmark)

I shall now turn to the item on our agenda for today: the very serious situation prevailing in the Middle East. I shall, implicitly or explicitly, reply to some of the remarks made on the substance of the question during our discussion of the inscription of the item on the agenda.

I shall not go into a detailed survey of the long history of the problems in the Middle East. We are all familiar with the fact that the area has for a very long time been troubled by conflict and strife, which twice within the last two decades have erupted into open war. The last time when this happened was in 1956. On that occasion the United Nations, through energetic action, succeeded not only in bringing an end to the hostilities, but also - by the establishment of a United Nations presence in the area, the United Nations Emergency Force - in creating a certain stability and balance. This, as we all know, did not imply that any solution to the underlying political questions had been found; neither did it bring a complete end to local incidents and disturbances. But it was possible for a period of more than ten years to contain those incidents and to prevent them from leading to major military actions.

Last week, however, the function of the United Nations Emergency Force was suddenly brought to an end. In the words of the Secretary-General in his report of 18 May to the General Assembly, this has restored "the armed confrontation of the United Arab Republic and Israel" and has removed "the stabilizing influence of an international force operating along the boundaries between the two nations" [A16669, para. 13]. If anyone could have had any doubts before as to the very useful role played by the Emergency Force, that could hardly be the case any longer. We do not wish to dramatize the situation, but I dare say that this is not necessary because, since the beginning of the withdrawal of the Emergency Force, the situation along the borders between Israel and the United Arab Republic has been constantly deteriorating, and at an alarming speed. There has been a military build-up along the borders of Israel and the United Arab Republic, and there is no way of denying that the stage is set for a major military clash. The development has now reached a point where it seems as if the slightest miscalculation, the slightest misunderstanding of one or the other of the opponent's intentions, could lead to large-scale hostilities.

It was our hope that U Thant's decision to go to the area would in itself have had a pacifying effect. However, we have to admit that the urgency and the danger of the situation have become even more obvious since then. Only two days ago the President of the United Arab Republic declared that Israel ships and other ships carrying certain cargoes to Israel would be prevented from passing through the Strait of Tiran; and the Israel Government on its side has stressed that it would consider such a move as an attack.

Now what should be our attitude in the face of this grave danger? Should the Council just stand by, see what happens and hope for the best? That is hardly, I believe, what world public opinion would expect of us. It is, of course, most helpful indeed that certain Great Powers have urged restraint. If, however, we believe in the United Nations, can it then be disputed that a call expressing the collective will of this body will carry even greater weight? It is fortunate, indeed, that the confrontation between the parties has so far not gone beyond the level of mutually hostile declarations, but let us not forget that the most important task of the Council is the preservation, not the restoration, of international peace and security.

At this very moment our esteemed Secretary-General, in whom we have absolute confidence, is making great efforts to bring about an easing of the tension. Generally speaking, it would have been preferable to defer any action by this Council until we had before us the Secretary-General's report on his current efforts. However, we have to live with the facts of life such as they are, and not as we wish them to be. And the facts are that even since the Secretary-General left New York there have been alarming developments, and the mission of the Secretary-General, which we fully support, cannot relieve this Council of any of its responsibilities.

For those several reasons my Government has considered it necessary, together with the Government of Canada, to ask for an urgent meeting of the Security Council. In doing so, it has not, of course, been our intention to take sides in the conflict. We have not prejudged the issue. Our only concern has been the preservation of peace.

The actual question before us, the dangerous trend in the Middle East, represents only the latest phase in a long development. Obviously it would have been preferable if the Council could have had the possibility of tackling the real political problems which underlie the tension in the area. At the moment, however, we shall have to confine ourselves to more limited tasks. But I take it that we all are deeply concerned about the situation in the Middle East, that we all wish war to be avoided, that we are all prepared to reinforce the endeavours of U Thant and that we all here accept the responsibility of the United Nations, and in particular of the Security Council, in this matter. Would it then be too much to expect the Council to express its full support for the efforts of the Secretary-General to pacify the situation in the Middle Fast and to request all States to refrain from any steps which might worsen the situation?

That would be, in our opinion, the first measure which the Security Council could profitably take in order to ease the tension. That would be an approach impartial and limited in scope and, we feel, in the present situation the minimum of our responsibilities.

We hope that other members will share our thoughts and that it will prove possible for the Security Council to act on the strength of a unanimous opinion.

Mr. Goldberg (United States of America)

The United States strongly supported the request made by Canada and Denmark last evening for an immediate meeting of the Security Council. We did so out of our grave concern over the sharp increase of tension between Israel and its Arab neighbours since the Secretary-General's departure, and out of our belief that the Secretary-General should be accorded all possible support in the difficult peace mission on which he is now embarked.

When the Secretary-General announced his intention to undertake this critically important journey, my Government immediately gave him our full backing. We agreed with his assessment of the gravity of the situation when he said on 19 May, in his report to the Council: "the current situation in the Near East is more disturbing, indeed I may say more menacing, than at any time since the fall of 1956" [S/7896, para. 19].

We, like others in the Council, would normally have awaited a further report from the Secretary-General before convening a meeting of the Council. However, since the Secretary-General made his report - indeed, in the two days since he departed for Cairo - conditions in the area have taken a still more menacing turn because of a threat to customary international rights which have been exercised for many years in the Gulf of Aqaba. This has led us to the belief that the Council, in the exercise of its responsibilities, should meet without delay and take steps to relieve tension in the area.

In his report to the Council the Secretary-General correctly singled out two areas as "particularly sensitive". One was the Gaza Strip. The other was Sharm el-Sheikh, which stands at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba.

The position of the United States on these matters was publicly stated yesterday by President Johnson, and I shall not take up the time of the Council to reiterate what he explicitly said.

We are well aware, of course, of the long-standing grievances, some of them of many years' standing, on all sides of this complex dispute. Whoever is familiar with the area knows that, regrettably, these underlying problems are not going to be resolved tomorrow. The cause of peace which we here are pledged to serve will not be advanced by raking over the past or by attempting over-ambitiously to settle the future. Our objective today should be more limited, but none the less of crucial importance in the present circumstances. It should be, very simply, to express full support for the efforts of the Secretary-General to work out a peaceful accommodation of the situation. Accordingly, we should call upon all States to avoid any action which might exacerbate the already tense situation which prevailed when the Secretary-General departed on his mission.

Judging from what we heard at this morning's meeting, there should be no difficulty in obtaining the agreement of all members for this course of action by the Council. Surely it is the plain obligation of the parties, as members of the United Nations committed to the cause of peace, to ensure that there is no interference with existing international rights which have long been enjoyed and exercised in the area by many nations. Such interference would menace the mission of the Secretary-General and could abort his efforts to work out a peaceful accommodation.

We are fully aware, as are all the members of the Council, of the long-standing underlying problems in the area. But no problem of this character can or should be settled by war-like acts. The United States opposition to the use of aggression and violence of any kind, on any side of this situation, over the years, is a matter of record. As our actions over many years have demonstrated, and as President Johnson reaffirmed in his statement yesterday: "the United States is firmly committed to the support of the political independence and territorial integrity of all" - and I emphasize "all" - "the nations in the area. The United States strongly opposes aggression by anyone in the area, in any form, overt or clandestine."

My country's devotion to that principle has been demonstrated concretely - not only in the Suez crisis, where we stood against old allies, but consistently through the years. In fact, in the most recent debate in this Council involving that area, we made very clear the United States commitment to the solution of all problems of the area by exclusively peaceful means and by recourse to the armistice machinery.

Only two days ago many of us here had occasion, during the debate on the peace-keeping question in the General Assembly, to speak of the vital interest which all Powers, great and small alike, share in maintaining an impartial international instrument of stability - an instrument which, when danger and discord arise, can transcend narrow self-interest and put power at the service of peace. That instrument is the United Nations; and above all it is the Security Council, with its primary Charter responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The view is sometimes stated that the smaller Powers, because they are the most vulnerable, are the real beneficiaries of United Nations efforts to maintain peace, whereas the Great Powers "can take care of themselves". My country does not accept this view. Nobody questions the vital interest of the smaller Powers in this activity; indeed, they have manifested this interest time and time again by their votes and by their contributions. But neither should anybody suppose that the exercise by the United Nations of its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security does not serve the basic interests of the Great Powers also. Great Powers have both interests and responsibilities in this matter - and the greater the Power the greater the responsibility.

In this spirit, I am authorized to announce that the United States, both within and outside the United Nations, is prepared to join with other Great Powers - the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France - in a common effort to restore and maintain peace in the Middle East.

All must join in the search for peace: the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the Great Powers. Both separately and together, let us work in this common cause which so vitally affects our own interests and those of all the world.

Mr. Matsui (Japan)

The confrontations now existing there must not be permitted to escalate into armed conflict. The utmost caution and restraint is essential not only with regard to land borders and air space, but also with regard to the waterways in the area. The maintenance of international peace and security in the Near East is not a matter that concerns only the countries in the area. It is a matter that concerns the entire world. The Governments directly involved in the present situation certainly do realize this. Their responsibilities and obligations under the Charter and relevant international agreements extend beyond themselves and involve the interests of the entire international community.

At the same time, all Member States, and particularly the members of the Security Council, have the responsibility and the obligation to do everything in their power to help maintain peace in the area. Speaking for Japan, I pledge our fullest co-operation to this end.

Mr. Ignatieff (Canada)

I take the floor briefly again at this time to introduce and to explain the draft resolution which has been circulated as Document S/7905. Mindful of the concern expressed by most members of the Security Council in the discussion so far, about the need to reinforce the mission of the Secretary-General and to do nothing to exacerbate an already dangerous situation in the Middle East, I have been authorized, on behalf of the Governments of Denmark and Canada, to introduce this straightforward, impartial draft resolution for the consideration of members of the Security Council.

I think the Council will find that the language is taken almost word for word from the statement which the representative of Denmark made earlier today [1341st meeting], and it expresses a point of view with which I fully agree. The draft resolution, like our joint letter requesting inscription of this item on the agenda of the Council, is, I believe, clear in language, limited in scope, and non-controversial in motive.

In the draft resolution it is proposed that the Council should, first, express its support for the efforts being made by the Secretary-General to pacify the situation; second, request all members to do nothing to worsen the situation; and third, invite the Secretary-General to report to the Council upon his return so that we may continue our consideration of the matter in this forum.

We believe that the draft resolution would have a useful effect in extending the moral influence of the Security Council, in the present situation, in support of the Secretary-General's effort and in support of the preservation of peace in the Near East, while reducing the possibility of unnecessary controversy among us.

I would suggest, therefore, that we should consult immediately following this meeting, with the hope that members of the Council might attain unanimity on this matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Seydoux (France) (translated from French)

France is staunchly devoted to the maintenance of peace in the Middle East. From the beginning of the present crisis, it has constantly urged moderation on all the parties involved, appealing to them to avoid embarking on a process of escalation and, above all, warning them against the danger of turning the crisis into a military confrontation fraught with deplorable consequences for all.

It has to be noted, at the present juncture in the march of events, that reason and moderation have thus far not prevailed. Nevertheless, the French Government continues to rely on the sense of responsibility of the leaders of the countries concerned towards their peoples, and on their resolve to safeguard peace. The crisis has clearly reached a new stage with the announcement of the measures taken by the Government of the United Arab Republic to prevent the passage of shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba.

As to the role which the Security Council can play, the French Government recognizes the fact that the Council can undertake no action so long as the principal Powers are not in agreement among themselves. For the moment, therefore, it can do no more than approach the parties with an appeal to reason and ask them to refrain from taking any action that might endanger peace. Assuming that that appeal is heeded, and taking due account of the position of the Powers which bear primary responsibility for peace in the world, the Council could then proceed to discuss the means whereby it could help to bring about a peaceful solution of the present dispute.

Lord Caradon (United Kingdom)

What has been done in the past by the United Nations Emergency Force, the Mixed Armistice Commission and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization has been proved to be salutary, effective and essential, and we have paid tribute to all those who have taken part in those successful peace-keeping endeavours. My Government would prefer to see the earliest re-establishment of the kind of United Nations operation which so successfully operated in Sinai and in Gaza. But it also believes that alternative means could be effective. It is to that question that we should direct our urgent attention.

In addition, there is one most urgent and most dangerous issue of all: the question of the right of passage for shipping of all nationalities through the Strait of Tiran. The maintenance of the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea dealing with international navigation between the high seas and territorial waters is of the gravest concern to my Government, as it must be to all engaged in international trade. On this subject my Prime Minister made an important statement today in which he reaffirmed what was said by a representative of my Government in the General Assembly ten years ago. These are the words he used:

"It is the view of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that the Strait of Tiran must be regarded as an international waterway through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage".

These, then, are the questions that we have to tackle together. First, how can tension be relieved and immediate dangers of conflict be removed? Second, how can the rights of free and unimpeded passage through the Strait of Tiran be guaranteed and assured? Third, how can effective United Nations measures and machinery to keep the peace and prevent violence and conflict throughout the whole area best be worked out for the future? Fourth, what new measures and additional action can be taken to prevent such dangers to the peace from recurring in future years?

Those are all matters which we shall discuss as we proceed with our debate. I do not wish or need to discuss them immediately. For the present, I wish only to repeat that, to deal with these problems, we support the efforts of the Secretary-General, we welcome the calling of the Security Council to reinforce his efforts, and we undertake to take a full part in the urgent task on which the Council is now engaged.

Never has the United Nations faced a greater challenge or a greater opportunity. We have an opportunity now, if we work together in understanding and in good faith, not only to lift the threat of conflict from the Middle East, but to restore the trust placed in the United Nations as an effective force for keeping the peace of the world.

Mr. Fedorenko (USSR) (translated from Russian)

Israel extremists apparently hoped to take Syria by surprise and deal a blow at Syria alone. But they miscalculated. Showing solidarity with the courageous struggle of the Syrian people, who are upholding their independence and sovereign rights, Arab States - the United Arab Republic, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Kuwait, Sudan and Jordan -declared their determination to help Syria in the event of an attack by Israel.

The United Arab Republic, honouring its commitments as an ally for joint defence with Syria, took steps to contain the aggression. Considering that the presence of the United Nations troops in the Gaza area and Sinai Peninsula would in this situation give Israel advantages for staging a military provocation against Arab countries, the Government of the United Arab Republic asked the United Nations to pull its troops out of this area. A number of Arab States voiced their readiness to place their armed forces at the disposal of the joint Arab command to repel Israel aggression.

As is known, the Government of the USSR warned the Government of Israel, in connection with the armed provocation of 7 April, that Israel would bear the responsibility for the consequences of its aggressive policy. It would seem that a reasonable approach has not yet triumphed in Tel Aviv. As a result, Israel is once again to blame for a dangerous aggravation of tension in the Near East.

The question arises: what interests does the State of Israel serve by pursuing such a policy? If they calculate in Tel Aviv that Israel will play the role of a colonial overseer for the imperialist Powers over the peoples of the Arab East, there is no need to prove the groundlessness of such calculations in this age when the peoples of whole continents have shaken off the fetters of colonial oppression and are now building an independent life.

For decades the Soviet Union has been giving all-round assistance to the peoples of Arab countries in their just struggle for national liberation, against colonialism, and for the advancement of their economy.

But let no one have any doubts about the fact that, should anyone try to unleash aggression in the Near East, he would be met not only by the united strength of Arab countries but also by strong opposition to aggression from the Soviet Union and all peace-loving States.