I hated my voting instructions: Samantha Power defied Obama to block Russia from United Nations body

I hated my voting instructions: Samantha Power defied Obama to block Russia from United Nations body

Samantha Power

I hated my voting instructions: Samantha Power defied Obama to block Russia from United Nations body

“Too much had happened since I arrived at the U.N. not to vote my conscience,” Power, the former ambassador to the United Nations, writes in her book The Education of an Idealist. For Power, 48, who was Americas top U.N. diplomat in Obamas second term …
I hated my voting instructions: Samantha Power defied Obama to block Russia from United Nations body

‘I hated my voting instructions’: Samantha Power defied Obama to block Russia from UN body

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 | September 11, 2019 09:47 AM

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For Power, 48, who was America’s top U.N. diplomat in Obama’s second term, the race to see whether Russia would secure a three-year term on the U.N.’s top human rights panel came at a frustrating time. Her tenure had been marked by clashes over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intense bombardments of civilian population centers in support of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Yet Powers was instructed to vote for Russia.

“What I saw was not unexpected, but it still caused me to shake my head. ‘What on earth will it take?’ I wondered,” she writes. “I hated my voting instructions from Washington.”

Secretary of State John Kerry’s team intended to honor a long-standing agreement in which the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia — agree to back each other in such U.N. elections. The vote took place just a few weeks after the United Stated with Russia over a cease-fire in Syria. The “indiscriminate bombing” of civilians in Aleppo, a major rebel stronghold, had spurred Kerry to call for an “investigation of war crimes” against Russia and Assad.

“This was a self-interested, reciprocal deal … meant to assure the United States of four reliable votes in every election we ourselves entered,” she acknowledged.

Russia had wielded its Security Council veto as a shield against any international move to end the fighting in Syria or Ukraine. Power had been reduced to making only speeches denouncing Russian behavior to diplomats impervious to her rebukes.

“You don’t get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day, or a week,” Power . ”The Ambassador from the Russian Federation said that if we needed to be preached to, we would go to a church. I think given what’s happening, it would maybe be useful if more people went to church.”

But Russia couldn’t veto her views in a standard U.N. election, and neither could the order to honor the traditional agreement. “I understood the logic of the U.S. government’s long-standing deal,” she wrote. “But this day felt different.”

The council elections are broken down by region, so Russia was facing off with Hungary and Croatia in a three-country race for the two spots reserved for countries from Eastern Europe. Historically, Russia was all-but-guaranteed to beat at least one of those smaller powers. But human rights activists had launched a lobbying campaign against Russia. And in Power, they had an unexpected ally.

“I wrote the names of Croatia and Hungary in the Eastern European section, folded the paper over three times, and placed it through the slit in the brown wooden box that a U.N. official carried down the aisle,” she recalled.

Hungary placed first with 144 votes. Croatia came in second, with 114 votes — barely edging Russia, which had the support of 112 countries.

“Had there been one more vote for Russia and one fewer for Croatia, the two countries would have tied,” Power wrote in the memoir. “If this had occurred, Russia would have bullied and bribed during the runoff, and walked away with the seat. As it stood, Russia had lost — the first time in history that its government had been defeated in a major U.N. election.”

It was an unprecedented diplomatic victory in a series of intractable disputes.

“I looked over at the Ukrainian ambassador. His face was cupped in his hands. I wasn’t sure if he was weeping with relief or smiling,” Power wrote. “On one level, of course, the outcome was not a big deal. Russia’s loss in this election would not bring about the removal of its troops from Ukraine. But it was a rare repudiation of Putin on the global stage and a tiny measure of accountability for a country that had enjoyed impunity for its actions.”

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