Thursday, February 19, 2009

UN talks to expand Security Council begin

UNITED NATIONS: The General Assembly launched negotiations on Thursday aimed at reforming the powerful UN Security Council after nearly 30 years of efforts mired by national and regional rivalries.

Representatives of the 192 member states met informally behind closed doors to listen to the timetable for talks on five key issues, including the size, composition and power of an expanded council.

``This is a historic day in the United Nations,'' Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann said. ``Finally, today, we are about to enter into the substance of this reform.''

There is widespread support for revamping the UN's most powerful organ to reflect current global realities rather than the international power structure after World War II when the United Nations was created. But all previous attempts, starting in 1979, have failed because rivalries between countries and regions blocked agreement on how to expand the council.

The Security Council, which is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, has 15 seats. Ten are filled by non-permanent members elected for two-year terms that come from all regions of the world, and there are five permanent members with veto power whose support is essential for any reform to be adopted - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France.

In 2005, world leaders called for the council to be ``more broadly representative, efficient and transparent.'' The General Assembly's last session, which ended in September, asked the current session to start intergovernmental negotiations on council reform by Feb. 28.

German Ambassador Thomas Matussek, whose country is seeking a permanent seat as a reflection of its economic might, said prospects for compromise ``are better than they were before, because against the backdrop of the international financial and economic crisis everybody talks about global governance.''

The question, he said, is whether countries want the world to be run by small groups of economically and politically powerful nations or ``by the only legitimate global institution that we have, and that is the UN''

Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, whose country recently hosted a ministerial meeting of 80 countries to discuss remaking the council, said that ``everybody feels the pressure of the international situation - be it in the peace and security (area), be it in the financial aspect.''

But Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said he viewed the negotiations as a continuation of talks in the assembly's working group. ``The problems remain,'' he said. ``We have to see how people present their views in this new forum.''

D'Escoto said the first negotiations, on March 4, will tackle the different categories of Security Council membership. That session will be followed by meetings on the veto and regional representation later in March.

The size of an enlarged council and its working methods as well as the relationship between the council and the General Assembly will be up for consideration in April.

A second round of negotiations is scheduled for May. Chances for a deal remain to be seen, and some diplomats said talks could stretch into next year.

Deep divisions forced the General Assembly to shelve three rival resolutions to expand the Security Council in 2005:

- The so-called Group of Four - Germany, Japan, Brazil and India - aspired to permanent seats without veto rights on a 25-member council.

- A group of middle-ranking countries, including Italy and Pakistan, wanted a 25-member council with 10 new non-permanent seats.

- The African Union, whose 53 members argue that their continent is the only one without a permanent seat on the council, wanted to add 11 new seats: six permanent seats, including two for Africa with veto power, and five non-permanent seats.

Calling Thursday's launch of negotiations ``a significant event,'' British Ambassador John Sawers said ``the need for change is great.''

``The current climate of economic instability has highlighted the need for strong, representative and effective international organizations,'' he said.

But Sawers cautioned that in undertaking reforms, ``we have to ensure that this council remains capable of taking the effective action necessary to confront today's security challenges.''

US Ambassador Susan Rice echoed this view, saying President Barack Obama's administration supports council expansion ``in a way that will not diminish its effectiveness or its efficiency.''

``We will make a serious, deliberate effort, working with partners and allies, to find a way forward that enhances the ability of the Security Council to carry out its mandate and effectively meet the challenges of the new century,'' she said.

China's Yesui said Beijing supports expansion of the Security Council ``and we think priority should be given to an increase of the representation of developing countries, particularly from African countries.''

Pakistani Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon called Thursday's meeting ``an important starting point'' and reiterated his government's support for regional rotation of seats on the council to ``give everyone a fair chance.''


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