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Mbeki slams tepid response to UN reform

Published Sep 16, 2005


By Joe Lauria

South African President Thabo Mbeki has blasted the failure of United Nations member countries to agree to a comprehensive package of reforms.

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He dismissed their attempts as a "miserable performance".

They were full of half-hearted, timid and tepid responses to the need to close the economic gap and improve security between the richest and poorest nations.

"We have not made the decisive progress we thought we would with regard to the critical issue of the reform of the United Nations," Mbeki on Thursday told the special UN summit on reform.

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"We therefore have had no choice but to postpone to a later date the decisions we should have made."

The strong language by the president was indicative of the frustration felt by many of the 153 leaders at the inability of diplomats to agree to secretary-general Kofi Annan's wide range of UN reforms.

Negotiators spent a gruelling two weeks cobbling together a communiqué that the leaders were to release at the conclusion of the summit on Friday.

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While the vast majority of the 191 UN member nations agreed to most of the reforms, the United States, on one hand, and a group of hard-line, middle-income, developing countries, led by Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba, with backing from Russia and China, combined to defeat most of the reforms.

The centrepiece was the expansion of the Security Council beyond the current five permanent members - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - and 10 non-permanent members elected to two-year terms.

Annan had laid out three scenarios for enlargement, and all failed due to regional rivalries.

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Argentina and Brazil, India and Pakistan, Germany and Italy, and Japan and South Korea fought each other bitterly over new permanent seats. There will be none for the foreseeable future.

Combined, a group of four countries - Brazil, Germany, Japan and India - and the African Union could have garnered enough votes in the General Assembly to pass a proposal for six new permanent seats: the G4 plus two from Africa.

Divided, they had no chance and the proposal has been effectively shelved.

Discussions have continued on the borders of the summit in meetings between African leaders and others in an effort to keep hopes of reaching an agreement on council expansion alive.

Mbeki held closed-door talks on Thursday with the leaders of Brazil and India. South African officials refused to give details to the press.

Mbeki was to hold a press conference on Friday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at which they were to discuss Security Council reform, among other issues.

South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt are the three countries most often named as the African nations that would vie for the two new African seats.

Chief among other matters was an attempt by Annan to get rich countries to commit to foreign aid equal to 0,7 percent of their national GDPs to attain the Millennium Development Goals, including halving world poverty by 2015.

The European Union has made such a commitment, but Washington has refused.

As a consequence, the summit produced an agreement on development well short of its intended goals.

"Our approach to the challenge to commit and deploy the necessary resources for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals has been half-hearted, timid and tepid," Mbeki told the summit in his brief address.

The final communiqué "honestly states that Africa is 'the only continent not on track to meet any of the goals' of halving poverty by 2015", Mbeki said.

At a UN summit in 2000, world leaders committed to that goal, and this week's summit was, in part, a five-year review of the progress made so far.

Mbeki stressed the relationship between development and security that was a major aspect of Annan's UN reform agenda.

The thinking was that as long as many nations remained desperately poor in a world that has created vast riches, some marginalised groups would inevitably turn to violence.

The communiqué calls for a "security consensus" that is needed between rich and poor nations.

The grand bargain that was to be struck at this summit, but was not, was an exchange of development aid from rich to the poor regions in exchange for a definition on terrorism and international co-operation in fighting it.

Part of the new security arrangements was to have been the creation of a new, Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. - Independent Foreign Service

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