Sunday, September 11, 2005

UN reform summit meeting opens Wednesday

The much debated United Nations global summit on UN reform opens at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday. I have noted in earlier posts Ambassador Bolton's edits to the (second) draft outcome document. I have also logged my disagreement with the furor from bien pensant international opinion that the United States should dare actually to, uh, negotiate the terms of a diplomatic document intended to set the terms of the world's leading international organization for a long time to come.

Where do things stand now? Apparently, according to the Guardian, here, over this weekend, the British government has been lobbying Washington furiously, attempting to get Secretary of State Rice to "rein in" Bolton. The UK is fully behind the draft outcome document, says the Guardian, and sees the whole summit at risk. It further reports that one of the important US demands - that the document drop references to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) - has been shelved. On the other hand, the US reportedly refuses to sign on to the requirement of 0.7% Official Development Assistance (ODA), as it has always refused to do (references to the US having agreed to it in the Monterrey Consensus notwithstanding).

The Guardian article, which has been widely circulated in the blogosphere, says:

World summit on UN's future heads for chaos
UK leads last minute effort to rein in US objections

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Saturday September 10, 2005
The Guardian

The British government is mounting a huge diplomatic effort this weekend to prevent the biggest-ever summit of world leaders, designed to tackle poverty and overhaul the United Nations, ending in chaos.

The Guardian has learned that Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, has made a personal plea to his American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, for the US to withdraw opposition to plans for wholesale reform of the UN. He has asked Ms Rice to rein in John Bolton, the US ambassador to the world body.

Mr Bolton has thrown the reform negotiations into disarray by demanding a catalogue of late changes to a 40-page draft document which is due to go before the summit in New York on Wednesday.

Mr Bolton, one of the US administration hawks, became ambassador last month only after a long confrontation with the US senate, mainly caused by his ideological dislike of the UN.

The foreign secretary is planning to make calls to fellow ministers around the world over the weekend.

Mr Straw spoke to Ms Rice in a three-way conference call last Tuesday organised by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, to try to break the deadlock.

Mr Annan has been weakened by the criticisms voiced this week by an inquiry into the UN's running of the Iraq oil-for-food programme and needs a successful summit to avoid renewed calls for his resignation.

The British government, in a rare divergence from the US, is fully behind Mr Annan's reforms and fears the summit will fail to build on the agreements on aid reached at the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

Aid agencies and other international groups monitoring the talks expressed fears yesterday that ambitious goals on aid, protection of civilians and curbs on the arms trade will be lost.
Nicola Reindrop, head of the New York office of Oxfam International, said: "Negotiations are on the verge of collapse."

A representative of another group, at a lunch with Mr Annan on Thursday, described the negotiations as "imploding".

Ambassadors at the 191-member UN remained divided last night, three days after the deadline for completion of the draft document had passed. Talks will continue over the weekend. Monday has been set as the new deadline.

The summit, to which 175 world leaders have accepted invitations and which has been in the planning for more than a year, is billed as making the UN fit for the 21st century.

The three-day summit begins on Wednesday, with each leader allocated five minutes at the podium, a minimum of 14 hours of speeches. But the real diplomacy will take place behind the scenes.

The summit document is due to be unveiled next Friday. Proposals include:

· meeting the millennium development goals that would halve poverty by 2015 and make sure everyone has access to primary education;
· setting up a peace-building commission to help with post-conflict reconstruction;
· creating a human rights council;
· introducing a responsibility to protect citizens from genocide, much tougher than existing international obligations;
· imposing curbs on the arms trade;
· reforming the UN bureaucracy, particularly after the oil-for-food scandal;
· defining "terrorism".

But there are still more than 200 points of disagreement in the document.

Although the US has emerged as the leading opponent of the reform package, objections have also been lodged by some governments from the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents much of the developing world.

Ricardo Alarcon, speaker of the Cuban parliament, whose hopes of attending the summit along with President Fidel Castro were dashed when he was denied a visa by the US, said in Havana the summit "has been totally devalued, its original purpose kidnapped".

Although there has been little movement over the last few days, the mood in New York among diplomats was marginally more optimistic yesterday.

Mr Bolton has so far made only one significant concession, dropping his demand for the term "millennium development goals" to be deleted.

But Mr Bolton said the US will not renew a promise to pay 0.7% of gross domestic product towards aid, regarded as necessary for meeting the millennium development goals.
Controls on arms is likely to be dropped. But agreement is almost certain on creation of the human rights council. A deal could be reached on the peace-building commission, in spite of disagreements over who should run it.

There is a divide over the definition of terrorism, with pro-Palestinian states objecting that the proposed terminology be amended to exclude Palestinian fighters.

The most significant reform, expansion of the 15-member security council to about 25 members, has been shelved until at least December.

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