Lebanon Elected to UN Security Council

Diplomats said Lebanon will be able to speak for Arab countries, but may abstain from votes on Iran.

Politically divided Lebanon was among the five countries elected to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, and will take their seat on January 1.

The five newly elected members will replace Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam as non-veto-holding members of the 15-nation body, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the authority to impose sanctions and send peacekeeping forces.

Israel responded cautiously to the decision. The two neighboring countries have no ties and a history of conflict, most recently the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The month-long conflict was sparked by the abduction by Lebanese-based guerrilla powerhouse Hezbollah of two Israelis soldiers and resulted in an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon.

"UN security council members need to show special responsibility," Israel's Foreign Ministry said.

"We hope that in light of the serious events that have been recently occurred in Southern Lebanon, Lebanon will heed to the obligations attached to the Security Council's decisions," the response continued.

Diplomats said they expected Lebanon to be able to speak for Arab countries despite its sectarian divisions, but one said he anticipated it would abstain if the council was voting on further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Three rounds of sanctions have already been passed.

Iran is a sensitive subject in Beirut, where politicians are seeking to put together a new government, because of the political weight of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah group, whose militants fought against Israel in 2006.

"If it comes to Iran, that would cause quite deep divisions within the Lebanese government, and it would be difficult for them to take a definitive position, i.e. they're likely to abstain," said one Western diplomat who had spoken to Lebanese officials.

But the diplomat, speaking on condition he that he not be identified, also said he expected Lebanon to be a more moderate Arab voice on the council than outgoing Libya, which has clashed with the United States over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I think if you have a more moderate country on the Security Council they may look for a more moderate way through and take a lead perhaps more specifically from the Palestinians," he said.

"There have been occasions when the Libyans have refused to take the advice of the likes of Palestine and Egypt because it wasn't to their own national taste."

In an uncontested election, the UN General Assembly voted for Lebanon, Bosnia, Brazil, Gabon, and Nigeria to serve on the council in 2010 and 2011. All five had been selected in advance by their regional groups.

Unresolved political and security issues have meant that both Lebanon and Bosnia are subject to Security Council scrutiny. Lebanon has some 12,500 UN peacekeeping troops in its south, stemming from past conflicts with Israel, while Bosnia, torn by war in the 1990s, has a European Union force.

"The experience of being on the council will help strengthen their national government systems to enable them to take decisions on international issues," British Ambassador John Sawers, whose country holds a permanent council seat, said of Lebanon and Bosnia.

There are five veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council -the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - and 10 temporary elected members without vetoes.

But the elected members have some power because a council resolution needs nine votes in favor as well as no vetoes.

The only way the five countries elected on Thursday could have been blocked would have been if they had failed to obtain a two-thirds majority of the votes. All five were elected with overwhelming majorities.