Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

NZ's sweet moves at UN Security Council meeting

New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the UN, Gerard van Bohemen, at the table at NZ's New York apartment. Photo / Claire Trevett
New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the UN, Gerard van Bohemen, at the table at NZ's New York apartment. Photo / Claire Trevett

In a world in which 'sweeteners' are often put on the table as currency for votes, New Zealand's team on the UN Security Council has taken it literally.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs advisor chaperoning media in New York this week carried a very important diplomatic pouch over with him: a suitcase full of Whittakers' Chocolate.

The chocolate was to dispense when New Zealand takes over for its final slot as President in September.

As far as sweeteners go, Black Doris Plum dark chocolate is very much evidence New Zealand relies on soft power rather than hard power to get its way on the Security Council.

Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand's Permanent Representative at the UN, grins when asked if this chocolate is enough for New Zealand to get all it wants out of its last four months on the Security Council. "It's called hospitality."

The last time New Zealand was president in July last year it organised a debate on the small island states and pushed for progress on Foreign Minister Murray McCully's goal of reigniting the two state solution for Palestine and Israel.

This time there is only one focus area: Syria. That is partly because the September timing coincides with the week in which the countries' leaders attend the General Assembly - timing which has pros and cons.

The con is that it effectively takes a week out of the usual Security Council programme.

The pro is that the heavy hitters are in town.

That means Prime Minister John Key will chair the Security Council for the start of a debate on New Zealand's initiative on Syria - and the big wigs will be in town to hear it.

The form that will take is yet to be decided and will depend whether Russia and the US can broker a ceasefire in Aleppo and give some promise of a peace process.

"If there is no progress, we won't try and get anything concrete out of it, but there's a chance to bring attention to bear, spotlight territory," van Bohemen says.

New Zealand has already played a key role in work to try to ensure humanitarian assistance could get to trouble spots. In May it was also one of the five non-permanent Security Council members which pushed through a resolution to try to halt attacks on hospitals and health clinics in hotspots such as Syria which had killed health workers and civilians.

New Zealand will at least be hoping to avoid the ignominy of its last month as president in July last year when Russia twice deployed its veto.

It was pure bad luck on New Zealand's part, but nonetheless annoying given New Zealand has long campaigned against the veto power held by the five permanent members on the Council.

van Bohemen has 15kg of soft power sitting in that suitcase ready to deploy to avoid that this time round.

However, even that could require some hard power to unlock. The key for the suitcase padlock was left in Wellington and officials were about to resort to bolt cutters instead.

* Claire Trevett's trip to New York was funded by the Security Council Report, which receives funding from the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Q + A with Gerard van Bohemen:

Q: You're entering the final four months on the Security Council. Is this a 'dead duck' period?

A: No. I thought, based on my previous experience, that it would start to get harder but I'm actually quite convinced we can continue to have an influence.

Q: How different have the last two years been compared to your last stint as deputy when New Zealand was on the Security Council in 1993/94?

A: The world is a lot harder now. There was a constructive atmosphere in the place and that's not there now. It's not outright hostility but it's pretty difficult. The fact is the Russians say nice things when they want to say nice things and then they do other things, as they have done on Syria in particular.

Q: Do you think New Zealand will be missed?

A: We've got a good reputation. I do think people actually respect us so we get listened to.

Curiously, the French Ambassador of all people said to me 'you say the things that my people say we should say, but I could never say those sort of things.' And he said 'that's 200 years of French diplomacy, I could never speak like that.'
We are much more plain speaking."

- NZ Herald

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