UN council meets in person for first time since December

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — It was a big day for a half dozen ambassadors on the U.N. Security Council: They set foot in the chamber for a meeting for the first time.

The ambassadors from the five countries elected to the council for two-year terms starting Jan. 1 from India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway got to sit in their chairs at the horseshoe-shaped council table for the first time Tuesday. So did the United Kingdom’s new ambassador.

The last time the 15 members of the U.N.’s most powerful body met in person in the chamber was on Dec. 7, 2020, almost six months ago. It was in the midst of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, and not all council members were happy there, even with plexiglass partitions separating their seats.

The 193-member General Assembly, which meets in a much larger chamber, has allowed initially one, and now two, representatives per country to sit there socially distanced, including during September’s annual meeting of world leaders.

But despite intense lobbying for months, especially by Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, not all Security Council have been rushing to return.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun, however, told reporters when he took over the rotating council presidency this month that he hoped members would be able to meet in the chamber in person.

It finally happened Tuesday, for a meeting on Somalia.

Just before heading into the meeting, Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said she was thrilled to attend her first meeting in the council chamber.

Russia’s Nebenzia started his remarks to the council saying that “today, of course, is a very special day in the life of the council.”

He thanked the Chinese presidency for making the meeting possible.

“We have insisted for a long time on returning to the Security Council chamber,” Nebenzia said. “In our view we could have done this much earlier, and perhaps there was no need to leave at all. “

He expressed hope that future council presidents will follow China’s example and that “the number of meetings in this room will increase until the council finally moves fully from the virtual format in which we have been living for the past six months to an in-person format.”

When it was Estonia’s turn to speak, Ambassador Sven Jurgenson also thanked China for getting members back to the chamber.

“It does feel great,” he said. “And as president for the month of June, I’m hopeful that except for high-level meetings we will be able to move back all the meetings to the council chamber.”

After the meeting, British Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters: “It’s great to be in the council in person.”

“It makes … for a very different dynamic about the discussions,” she said. “It’s a good feeling, and also, I think, a sense of place, which reminds us all of the importance of the work we do in terms of promoting global peace and security.”

“The assumption is that vaccination programs have rolled out now far enough for us to be as sure as we can be about safety, but we’re all very mindful that at any point there could be a new variant that changes the dynamic. But for now, I think we are delighted to be back,” Woodward said.

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