On 8 August, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, is expected to brief Security Council members in closed consultations. No Council product appears planned, with the exception of possible press elements.
In resolution 2414 this past April, the Council renewed the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), opting for a six-month renewal instead of the regular one-year extension. The US pushed for the shorter renewal to pressure Morocco and the Polisario Front to resume negotiations for a political solution to the question of Western Sahara. The last round of formal negotiations occurred ten years ago. During its explanation of vote at the resolution’s adoption, the US warned that the further extension of the peacekeeping operation in October would depend on progress in the political process, stating that it expected to see the resumption of “real and substantive talks”. “Should that fail, we will then need to take a hard look at our work and our responsibilities when the Mission again comes up for renewal in six months”, stated US political coordinator Amy Tachco.
Köhler visited the region from 23 June to 1 July to push for the resumption of negotiations. He visited Algiers, Nouakchott, Rabouni and Rabat before going to Western Sahara for three days, where he held meetings in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla with local authorities, civil society organisations and the business community. At tomorrow’s meeting, Köhler is expected to brief on his trip and update members on his vision for how to move forward the political process. Members will be particularly interested to hear about any planned next steps, especially as less than three months remains until the expiry of MINURSO’s mandate on 31 October.
Tomorrow’s consultations, which will be Köhler’s first briefing since the adoption of resolution 2414, could be a chance for members to discuss issues with which they appear to be grappling, including whether the parties are serious about engaging constructively in negotiations if a process were to begin and whether the prospect of MINURSO’s departure worries the parties, offering useful leverage. Members also appear to have questions about what could constitute sufficient political progress for the US to support extending the mission in October. Some members may echo the call in resolution 2414 that the parties resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith.
As the penholder on Western Sahara, the US has been driving much of the Council discussion on the issue. Since last year, the US has stressed that peacekeeping operations, especially long-standing ones, should be contributing to a political outcome. MINURSO has been in place for 27 years, established in 1991 with a mandate to organise a referendum on self-determination which has never been held. The political process has appeared frozen over the past decade. Last April’s mandate renewal coincided with the appointment of John Bolton as US National Security Adviser, adding what has seemed like an extra layer of US scrutiny to MINURSO’s role. Bolton was an assistant to the former UN Envoy on Western Sahara, James Baker and, as was cited during the US explanation of vote, wrote in his memoir that when he served as US ambassador to the UN in the mid-2000s, he was concerned that the mission was taking on a “near-perpetual existence”. Köhler was expected to meet with White House officials ahead of tomorrow’s consultations.
Ahead of the mandate renewal of MINURSO, an independent review of the mission initiated by the Secretariat is being conducted. It seems that the review is currently being finalised. Its conclusions are likely to play an important role in the Council’s discussions on the mission’s future, in addition to Köhler’s plans.