UN adopts Afghan resolution without China's 'Belt and Road'

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a compromise resolution Tuesday extending the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan that drops a Chinese demand to include a reference to China's $1 trillion "belt and road" initiative but stresses the need for regional connectivity.

China and Russia had been clashing with the U.S. and other council members over China's insistence on including its flagship global program in the resolution. With the mandate about to run out, negotiators worked into the night on a watered-down compromise that was adopted Tuesday morning.

The 6 1/2-page draft resolution backed by most of the council was reduced to a 2 1/2-page text that eliminated language about professionalized Afghan security forces, the volatile security situation including the presence of the Islamic State extremist group and foreign fighters, and the increase of displaced people inside the country. It also dropped language on upcoming elections, the peace process, attacks on humanitarian workers, and the importance of women's rights.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said after the vote that the U.N. mission, known as UNAMA, would have had "a stronger substantive mandate" if not for the insistence of a member state — a clear reference to China — demanding language highlighting "national political priorities, rather than ways in which we can most effectively assist the people and government of Afghanistan." Britain and Belgium echoed that view.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun defended Beijing's position, saying this is not a good time to adopt a comprehensive resolution and calling it "a distortion of the mandate of UNAMA" to say that the U.N. mission has nothing to do with Afghanistan's economic development and regional connection.

"As a direct neighbor, China most wants to see peace, stability in Afghanistan and ... to have lasting peace, there must be impetus for economic development," he said.

Later, Chinese Minister Counselor Yao Shaojun told reporters it was not the right time for a comprehensive resolution because the Afghan presidential election is scheduled for Sept. 28 and "the peace and reconciliation process is still going on, including the talks between U.S. and the Taliban" that are "unpredictable," so "there are a lot of uncertainties."

Diplomats said China wanted to include a call for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan in the resolution, but that was rejected.

The resolution does stress "the central importance of a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict" and welcomes progress toward a political settlement.

In extending the U.N. mission's mandate until Sept. 17, 2020, the council authorized it to support the political process, the organizing of the Sept. 28 presidential election, government reform efforts, the importance of "gender equality and women's and girls' empowerment," protection of children and strengthening promotion and protection of human rights.

The resolution also authorized the mission to "support regional cooperation, with a view to promoting stability and peace, as well as assisting Afghanistan in utilizing its role at the heart of Asia to promote regional cooperation and connectivity, and to work towards a prosperous Afghanistan."

And it said the mission should "promote partnership on connectivity, based on transparency, openness and inclusiveness, welcome joint efforts to enhance dialogue and collaboration and to advance shared goals of economic development across the region."

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who drafted the resolution with Indonesia and was a key player in the compromise negotiations, called it "a good, substantial" new text that above all puts the "Afghan people in the center of the resolution."

"We were happy that we were able to find a solution after long and tough negotiations," Heusgen said.

He said economic development is very important for Afghanistan and the resolution stresses regional integration, connectivity and connectivity partnerships "but we don't mention any specific initiative."

This was the second time in six months that the resolution to keep the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan operating became embroiled in controversy over "belt and road" language.

Resolutions extending the mandate of the Afghan mission for a year in 2016, 2017 and 2018 had language welcoming and urging further efforts to strengthen regional economic cooperation involving Afghanistan, including through the huge "belt and road" initiative to link China to other parts of Asia as well as Europe and Africa.

But in March, when the mandate renewal came up, U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen objected, saying Beijing was insisting on making the resolution "about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan."

The resulting clash ended with a bare-bones resolution extending the mission's mandate for six months, with no mention of China's "belt and road" initiative.