The US Secretary of State John Kerry is spending a packed day a the United Nations today.
The USA is serving as the president of the Security Council this month. This is a rotating position that lets a member of the country help determine the Council’s agenda for the month. Countries often use this as an opportunity to highlight a thematic area or region to which they want to draw attention.
The USA has chosen to put the spotlight on the DRC. This morning, Secretary of State Kerry will chair a Security Council meeting on the “Great Lakes” region of Africa for a solutions oriented conversation about the troubles in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This is an auspicious time to have this discussion. A witches brew of rebel groups — sometimes supported by other countries in the region — are a persistent source of insecurity in Eastern DRC. Last Fall a rebel group supported by Rwanda sacked Eastern Congo’s main city; and just last week, attacks by a Ugandan rebel group in DRC forced about 15,000 Congolese to suddenly flee their homes. Amid all this, the Security Council recently approved a South African-led force to beef up the under-resourced UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC. It was given a rather robust mandate to pro-actively target rebel groups, which is a rare (and risky) thing for UN Peacekeeping. In the meantime, there is a fledgling peace process called the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC” which needs some serious help.
The fact that the Secretary of State rather than the acting US Ambassador to the UN is chairing this meeting is symbolically important for the fact that it shows top level commitment on this issue. But it also has the added effect of encouraging other foreign ministers to attend. This is a “ministerial” meaning that other foreign ministers of Security Council members will be on hand. Also speaking is World Bank president Jim Kim and the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, former Irish President Mary Robinson. The newly minted US Special Envoy for the region, former US Senator Russ Feingold, is part of the US delegation.
Later in the day, Kerry is scheduled to meet with members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. This private meeting at the US Mission will almost certainly dominate the news coverage of Kerry’s UN visit today. In remarks welcoming Kerry to the UN today, Ban Ki Moon said he looked forward to discussing the Syria situation with Kerry and called for the oft-delayed Geneva Peace Conference to happen as soon as possible. In brief remarks John Kerry stressed that there is no “military solution” to the Syrian conflict — only a political solution. This has been the UN’s mantra for the past two years. I would imagine that Ban Ki Moon was rather pleased to hear the US Secretary of State explicitly repeat it.