This was the second time that Elders attended the Conference, following their visit in 2015 to formally launch the “Stronger UN” initiative. This time, participation was an opportunity to publicly reaffirm their support for the Iran nuclear agreement, action on climate change, and more equitable and humane policies towards refugees and migrants.
The Conference attracted significant attention in 2017 because it marked the first major appearance on a European stage of senior officials from the new US Administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Defence Secretary James Mattis.
In light of the uncertainty surrounding the intentions of the new US President regarding the Middle East in general, The Elders had decided to use their prestige and independence to defend the nuclear agreement with Iran brokered in 2015, as it had become an important contributor to regional and global stability.
The Elders' panel defending the Iran Deal at the Munich Security Conference 2017 (Credit: Munich Security Conference)
Lakhdar Brahimi and Ernesto Zedillo convened a panel discussion together with two very senior Middle East figures – former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal, a vocal critic of Iran, and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the former Qatari Prime Minister. The moderator was Bruce Jones, Vice-President and Director of the Foreign Policy programme at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The debate that ensued was spontaneous and thoughtful, with the two Gulf Arabs agreeing with the Elders that the Iran deal was both necessary and important.
The Elders also used their participation at Munich to argue for greater cooperation and action on climate change, and on improving the international response to the refugee and migration crises.
Mary Robinson speaking at a session on climate security at the Munich Security Conference 2017. (Credit: MSC/Widmann)
Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani spoke eloquently and forcefully during their climate security and refugee sessions, which included Foreign Ministers, top UN officials and experts in their respective fields. Among the speakers at the climate panel were Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Sauli Ninistö, Finnish President.
The refugee roundtable was chaired by David Miliband, former UK Foreign Secretary who now heads the International Rescue Committee, with whom Elders met in September 2016 in New York during the High Level Week of the UN General Assembly.
The Elders also held an extensive series of bilateral meetings programme, including five top Middle Eastern and four top UN officials. The former were: the Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister, Ziad Abu Amr, the Iranian and Omani Foreign Ministers, Javad Zarif and Yussuf al-Abdullah respectively, the Secretaries-General of the two main regional organisations, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and Abdullatif al-Zayani.
The UN officials met were the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid al-Hussein, the new Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, and the SG’s Special Advisor for Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, Jane Holl Lute.