U.N. Security Council unlikely to act on Iran scientist killing - diplomats

FILE PHOTO: The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly high-level debate, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, U.S., September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Just hours after the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Tehran demanded the United Nations Security Council condemn the killing and take action against those responsible, but diplomats say the call is likely to go unheeded.

At a minimum, the 15-member body could discuss Friday's killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh behind closed doors if a member requests such a meeting or it could agree on - by consensus - a statement on the issue.

But South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Jerry Matjila, council president for December, said on Tuesday that no member had so far requested to discuss the killing or Iran in general. Diplomats also said there had been no discussion of a statement.

The Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security and has the ability to authorize military action and impose sanctions. But such measures require at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China.

While no party has claimed responsibility for the killing of Fakhrizadeh - viewed by Western powers as the architect of Iran's abandoned nuclear weapons program - Iran has accused Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has declined to comment.

The United States traditionally shields Israel from any action at the Security Council. Washington has declined to comment on the assassination of the scientist.

The U.N. investigator on extra-judicial executions, Agnes Callamard, said on Friday that many questions surrounded the killing of Fakhrizadeh, but noted the definition of an extraterritorial targeted killing outside of an armed conflict.

Callamard posted on Twitter that such a killing was "a violation of international human rights law prohibiting the arbitrary deprivation of life and a violation of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force extraterritorially in times of peace."

Iran also addressed its letter on Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In response, Guterres urged restraint and condemned "any assassination or extra-judicial killing," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday.

The Security Council is due to meet on Dec. 22 for its biannual meeting on compliance with a resolution that enshrines a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, which U.S. President Donald Trump's administration quit in 2018.

Any council member or Iran could choose to raise the killing of Fakhrizadeh during that meeting.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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