UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iceland, a country possibly headed toward bankruptcy, and Iran, a country under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear program, both are vying for member seats on the powerful Security Council.
The 192-member General Assembly meets Friday to vote for five new non-permanent members of the 15-seat council, the powerhouse of the U.N. with the ability to impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeepers. Candidates must get a two-thirds majority of members voting in the secret ballot to win. Iceland will battle Austria and Turkey for one of two European seats open on the Security Council. Iceland was considered a strong candidate, until the recent global financial crisis threatened its economy and crushed its banks.
“There’s no doubt the financial crisis has had an impact on Iceland’s international standing,” a Western diplomat with familiarity of the discussions said on condition of anonymity because voting takes place on a secret ballot. But all three European countries have issues that they can expect to come under scrutiny.
“Icelanders have to defend themselves against their financial problems, Austrians have to defend themselves against the 30 percent right-wing vote, and the Turks have to defend themselves against their internal problems and the role of the military in the government,” the diplomat said.
Austria’s two anti-immigration rightist parties, the Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria, earned almost 30 percent of the vote during parliamentary elections on Sept. 28.
Mostly Muslim Turkey has long been a strongly secular country, but recently the country has been buffeted by conflict between the Islamic-rooted government and secularists such as the country’s urban elite and many in the military.
During Friday’s voting, Turkey is expected to get strong support from Islamic countries.
When Iceland’s U.N. Ambassador Hjalmar Hannesson was asked if he thought the country’s economic turn would hurt its chances for a seat, he told The Associated Press, “I don’t know really … this is a global crisis and a global problem, and we have been an active player in the global marketplace.”
Hannesson said he has received much support from his colleagues.
“Quite honestly I have heard and felt a lot of sympathy in this house from many of my colleagues, especially in the countries of the southern hemisphere,” he said. Developing countries make up a majority of the 192 U.N. member states, and Hannesson said “it is precisely these countries who are sympathetic and understand what a small country can go through because they are going through the
Despite sanctions imposed by the U.N. on Iran, the country is still able to compete against Japan for the Asian seat, although given its controversial status, Iran seems unlikely to win a seat on the Security Council. Many think Japan will be a clear win, having already served nine terms on the council.
In September, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a new resolution reaffirming previous sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program and offering Tehran incentives to do so.
The brief resolution reaffirmed the three earlier Security Council sanctions resolutions, which include an asset freeze on 65 companies and individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and a travel ban on five people associated with Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The sanctions also include bans on Iranian arms exports, supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and on trade in goods that have both civilian and military uses.
Last year, Libya was the dark horse of the Security Council member elections. The former pariah state once condemned by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism, although more recently the U.S. has expanded relations with the North African country, ran uncontested for a council seat and won.
Uganda and Mexico are likely to win seats on the Security Council this year because both are running uncontested for the African and Latin American seats respectively.
Ten of the council’s 15 seats are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by its veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
The five countries elected to the council will take their seats on Jan. 1, 2009, replacing Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa. The five countries elected last year, Libya, Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and Croatia, will remain on the council until Jan. 1, 2010.