Russia and China used an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Monday to strongly criticize recent US retaliatory strikes on Iraq and Syria, describing the military action as a violation of those countries' territorial integrity that would further destabilize the Middle East.
Tensions between the United States and Russia have been high since the country's leader Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine nearly two years ago. The Security Council has often been a forum for disagreements between the United States and Russia over Ukraine, Syria, and more recently the war in Gaza.
China has sided with Russia on these issues and has maintained a consistent policy of condemning actions that undermine any nation's sovereignty, even as its regional ambitions have attracted increasing opposition from the United States. In the conflicts in the Middle East, China has close relations with several key actors, including Russia and Iran.
Russia requested an emergency meeting, which focused on three days of US strikes that began on Friday, targeting what the US said were targets linked to Iranian-backed militias. The US strikes followed what the Pentagon said were more than 160 attacks on US forces in the region during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, including an attack on January 28 that killed three US soldiers at a settlement outpost in Jordan.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia called the strikes “another illegal and irresponsible act by the United States in the Middle East” and said the country wanted to drag larger adversaries, such as Iraq and Iran, into the war. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it seeks to avoid such an expansion of hostilities, and expects its strikes to reduce casualties.
Mr. Nebenzia also sought to link the strikes to a US election year, saying: “We see in these attempts at ‘muscle flexing’, first and foremost, a desire to influence the domestic political scene in America, and a desire to somehow correct the disastrous situation.” The image of the current American administration on the international scene as the presidential election campaign heats up.
Robert Wood, United States Ambassador. Defend the actions of the army As “necessary and proportionate” and consistent with international law and the right to self-defence. He said that the killing of American soldiers by Iranian-backed militias “was unacceptable, and such attacks cannot continue.”
Mr. Wood blamed Iran for empowering a network of militias in the region that opened fronts against Israel during the war in Gaza, launching almost daily attacks on American soldiers and disrupting shipping in the Red Sea, a major channel in global trade.
He urged countries that have relations with Iran to put pressure on it to rein in its regional militias. He said that the American strikes on the militia command bases, their intelligence, their logistical chains, and their supplies succeeded in weakening their capabilities.
Representatives of Syria, Iraq and Iran also condemned the US strikes, saying they killed civilians, contrary to stated US goals.
China supported this criticism. “One country's security cannot be achieved at the expense of another,” said Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, widely accusing the United States of using excessive force around the world and manipulating public opinion about its intentions.
Iran's ambassador to the organization, Saeed Irvani, rejected the idea of Iran having military bases in Iraq and Syria or leading proxy militias, despite significant evidence indicating the opposite. In the end, he took a conciliatory tone, reflecting Tehran's comments that stopped short of threatening retaliation for the strikes.
“Iran has never sought to transfer its dispute with the United States to Iraqi territory,” Mr. Iravani told the council, reiterating Iran’s position that it does not seek war with the United States.
Several council members repeated their calls for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, which has claimed more than 27,000 lives, according to Gaza health authorities, and destabilized the region. Efforts to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire have received widespread support at the United Nations and in the Security Council, but have been blocked by the United States, which as a permanent member of the Security Council has veto power. Algeria, the only Arab member of the Council, has drafted a new resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Its terms are still under negotiation.
Rosemary DiCarlo, UN High Political Coordinator, told the Council that after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on October 7 that sparked the war in Gaza, the risk of a broader conflict had become clear. Israeli officials said the attacks killed 1,200 people and led to the kidnapping of 240 others in Gaza.
She urged all parties to “step back from the brink and consider the intolerable human and economic cost of a potential regional conflict.”