UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Jordan takes over the U.N. Security Council presidency on Wednesday, the first day of its two-year stint on a 15-nation body struggling to cope with conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and elsewhere.
Jordan will join Chad, Chile, Lithuania and Nigeria on the council until December 31, 2015. The U.N. General Assembly elected Amman in early December as a replacement for Saudi Arabia after Riyadh turned down the seat in protest at the council's failure to end the Syrian war and act on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other Middle East issues.
Although Jordan was a last-minute stand-in for the Saudi kingdom, Amman's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, has a reputation at the United Nations for his outspoken stance on human rights issues, U.N. diplomats say.
In April Zeid helped organize a boycott of a General Assembly meeting on international justice organized by Vuk Jeremic, a Serbian politician who headed the U.N. General Assembly. The United States called it "inflammatory.
Several U.N. Security Council diplomats said Zeid may turn out to be an influential member of the most powerful U.N. body, even though Jordan, like the other temporary members, will not have the veto power wielded by the five permanent council nations - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
"Although Jordan got into the Security Council by default, Prince Zeid is one of the best-known ambassadors around the U.N. and a genuinely thoughtful critic of the organization," said Richard Gowan, an international relations expert at New York University. "He could prove to be a surprisingly weighty voice in council debates."
As president of the council for January, Zeid will organize briefings on the delayed destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and the escalating conflict in South Sudan, as well as the situation in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan's Western Darfur region.
Another change in the council's composition is that at least one-third of the Security Council ambassadors in 2014 will be women - Samantha Power of the United States, Maria Cristina Perceval of Argentina, Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, Raimonda Murmokaite of Lithuania and Joy Ogwu of Nigeria.
The increased percentage of women could lead to more council meetings like the informal session Luxembourg and Britain are planning that will focus on women's participation in the Syrian transition process - assuming a peace agreement is reached.
But diplomats and analysts says the new composition of the council - including the presence of Jordan - is unlikely to break the impasse over Syria's nearly three-year-old civil war, which the United Nations says has killed over 100,000 people.
Jordan has over 570,000 Syrian refugees on its territory.
The council remains deadlocked on Syria, largely because of differences between Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the United States, Britain and France, which have called on Assad to step down. Russia, along with China, has vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's government and threatening it with sanctions.
According to Security Council Report, a think-tank that monitors the council's work, the recent failure, due to a U.S.-Russian disagreement, to get the council to agree on a statement condemning air strikes on Aleppo by Assad's forces highlighted the persistence of the deadlock on Syria.
"The five permanent members still dominate council business, and are not inclined to give the temporary members much leeway," said Gowan. "On first-order issues like Syria, don't expect the change of the council's composition to have much of an impact."
Diplomats said there will likely be heated Security Council discussions in 2014 on challenges facing U.N. peace keepers, including stabilizing South Sudan and launching a U.N. peace-keeping operation in Central African Republic. One issue for the West, they say, is the rising cost of peace keeping.
The five temporary council members staying through 2014 are Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Dan Grebler