Russia and China used an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday to sharply criticize recent U.S. retaliatory strikes on Iraq and Syria, calling the military action a violation of the territorial integrity of those countries that would further destabilize the Middle East.
U.S. tensions with Russia have been high since that country’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, ordered his forces to invade Ukraine almost two years ago. The Security Council has frequently been a platform for U.S. and Russia’s spats over Ukraine, Syria and, most recently, the war in Gaza.
China has sided with Russia on those issues and maintained a consistent policy of denouncing actions that undermine a country’s sovereignty, even as its own territorial aspirations have drawn increasing U.S. opposition. In the conflicts in the Middle East, China has close ties to many of the key actors, including Russia and Iran.
Russia requested the emergency meeting, which focused on three days of American strikes that started on Friday, aimed at what the United States said were targets linked to militias backed by Iran. The U.S. strikes followed what the Pentagon said had been more than 160 attacks on American forces in the region during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, including one on Jan. 28 that killed three U.S. soldiers at an outpost in Jordan.
Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, called the strikes “another unlawful and irresponsible act of the United States in the region of Middle East” and said the country wanted to draw bigger adversaries, like Iraq and Iran, into war. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it is seeking to avoid such an expansion of hostilities, and has forecast its strikes to minimize casualties.
Mr. Nebenzya also sought to connect the strikes to the U.S. election year, saying, “We see in these ‘flex their muscles’ attempts, first of all, a desire to influence domestic political landscape in America, a desire to somehow correct the disastrous image of the current American administration on the international arena as the presidential election campaign is heating up.”
Robert Wood, a U.S. ambassador, defended the military’s actions as “necessary and proportionate” and in line with both international law and the right to self-defense. The killing of American soldiers by Iran-backed militia, he said, “was unacceptable, and attacks like this cannot continue.”
Mr. Wood blamed Iran for enabling the network of militia in the region that has opened fronts against Israel during the war in Gaza, launching near-daily attacks on U.S. soldiers and disrupting shipping in the Red Sea, a key conduit in global trade.
He urged countries with connections to Iran press it to rein in its regional proxy militias. And he said the U.S. strikes on the militias’ command and intelligence bases and logistic and supply chains had successfully degraded their capabilities.
Representatives of Syria, Iraq and Iran also condemned the U.S. strikes, saying that, in contrast to the stated U.S. aims, they had killed civilians.
China backed that criticism. “The security of one country can’t be achieved at the expense of another country,” said Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., broadly accusing the United States of using excessive force around the world and manipulating public opinion about its intentions.
And Iran’s ambassador to the body, Saeid Iravani, rejected the idea that Iran has military bases in Iraq and Syria or commands proxy militias, despite significant evidence to the contrary. He eventually took a conciliatory tone, reflecting comments from Tehran that have stopped short of threatening revenge for the strikes.
“Iran has never sought to bring its dispute with the United States into Iraq’s territory,” Mr. Iravani told the Council, reiterating Iran’s stance that it does not seek a war with the United States.
Many Council members repeated their calls for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, which has killed more than 27,000 people, according to the health authorities in Gaza, and has destabilized the region. Efforts to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire have garnered wide support at the U.N. and at the Council, but have been blocked by the United States, which as a permanent member of the Security Council wields veto power. Algeria, the only Arab member of the Council, has drafted a new resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. Its terms are still under negotiation.
The U.N.’s top political chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, told the Council that, after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 set off the war in Gaza, the risk of a wider conflict was obvious. The attacks killed 1,200 people and led to the abduction to Gaza of 240 others, Israeli officials said.
She cautioned all sides “to step back from the brink and to consider the unbearable human and economic cost of a potential regional conflict.”