Kiwi diplomat reflects on tenure

By Mark Story

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Ex-Havelock North man Gerard van Bohemen says being a diplomat representing New Zealand is the bureaucratic equivalent of being an All Black.
Ex-Havelock North man Gerard van Bohemen says being a diplomat representing New Zealand is the bureaucratic equivalent of being an All Black.

New Zealand diplomat Gerard van Bohemen sits on the United Nations Security Council as New Zealand's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. The former Havelock North resident, whose two-year term ends at the end of this year, talks to the Herald's political editor Audrey Young.

Q: How would you sum up the second year on the council? How is it different?

It's different in the sense that we are now in our second year and you are conscious that the finish line is coming closer and that your time to do things is constrained.

Different in the sense that you are much more confident about, what's going on, how the council manages business and how you can influence both process and hopefully outcomes.

Q: On the issues where you might be "waited out", is that what is happening with the Middle East resolution?

No, not yet. I think the issue of the Middle East resolution is a bigger one and the timing relates as much to the US Administration. They are on a finite period because [President] Obama is out at the end of the year.

And the question is whether they are prepared to put the effort into getting something through before they go. We think there is a need for a Middle East resolution, yet what we found last year is the US didn't think action by the Security Council would be helpful. But with the situation changing there and with the [Israeli] settlements continuing, there is a genuine and pretty widespread concern that the peace process won't get under way if there is no prospect for a two-state solution and it is slowly being eroded by the settlements.

Q: What has been the most positive accomplishment of the council since you have been on it?

I suppose in real world terms, the Iran deal was the most positive because council action was essential to give effect to the negotiated outcome even if the negotiations happened away from the council.

The council's authority was needed both to lift the sanctions but also to put in place this complicated arrangement whereby, if Iran doesn't comply with the deal, the sanctions would snap back into place. That was a very significant achievement. The next one, I think, has been the pressure the council has been able to bring to bear on Syria to bring the cessation of hostilities about.

The International Syria Support Group is the key international negotiating feature and the cessation was actually negotiated between the United States and Russia. We were part of that. We gave international endorsement to the outcome but the actual negotiations were done outside the council. But that's just world realities; you work with what you have got.

From the New Zealand point of view, the resolutions we have adopted on humanitarian access, particularly to besieged areas and hard to access areas in Syria were significant.

Q: Were you surprised at Russia's sudden pull-out of Syria?

Yes. I think everybody was surprised by it. Surprised but not completely, for two reasons. One is that if you thought ahead, where was the end game for Russia by just sitting there. They needed to find a way out. They've taken a surprising quick way out.

They did change the nature of facts on the ground and leveraged themselves as being one of the indispensable players in the Syria resolution now, but the continued presence of a significant force could have made life much more difficult for them further ahead. The second one is that the Russian economy has been suffering quite significantly because of the collapse of oil and gas prices as well as the sanctions from the US and the Europeans. So maintaining a significant force offshore would itself be quite a significant. So there was probably some economic advantage in shutting it down.

Q: Looking ahead, what are your priorities in the coming months?

The Middle East peace process is obviously one that the minster [Murray McCully] attaches a lot of importance to. Whether something is possible, we will have to find out. There's conversations to be had with the United States, and also with the other council players.

The views of Egypt will be very influential because they are the Arab member of the Security Council as well as the Arab country that did the most significant peace deal with Israel.

Secondly Syria; we want to make sure that the peace process continues. We've got the negotiations just getting under way in Geneva now but we want to make sure the council keeps its eye on that and keeps things moving. In relation to that as well, we want to keep our eye on the humanitarian situation.

Thirdly, a group of countries, not just New Zealand, have raised the question about whether there should be some humanitarian product on Yemen because the situation there is about as bad as it got to in Syria. That is under consideration.

There's a group of elected members including Spain and Egypt and Japan and Malaysia working with us on that. We are also looking at a resolution on healthcare workers and healthcare facilities, calling for respect for international humanitarian law and stopping attacks on hospitals and medical workers. This is a problem that has become more prevalent in a number of conflicts.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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