UNITED NATIONS — The General Assembly opened a new chapter Thursday in the nearly 30-year effort to reform the U.N. Security Council, a quest which has been plagued by national and regional rivalries that show no sign of abating.
UNITED NATIONS — The General Assembly opened a new chapter Thursday in the nearly 30-year effort to reform the U.N. Security Council, a quest that has been plagued by national and regional rivalries that show no sign of abating. The 192 U.N. member states held an informal meeting behind closed doors to launch negotiations on revamping the U.N.’s most powerful organ to reflect the world today rather than the global power structure after World War II when the United Nations was created. "This is a historic day," said Afghanistan’s U.N. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, who will chair the negotiations. "Things are going to be different this time" because the assembly is moving from consultations to negotiations. But China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Yesui said he viewed the negotiations as a continuation of years of talks. "The problems remain," he said. "We have to see how people present their views in this new forum." While there is widespread support for reforming the Security Council, all previous attempts, starting in 1979, have failed because rivalries between countries and regions blocked agreement on the size and composition of an expanded council. The Security Council has 15 members — 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms who come from all regions of the world and 5 permanent members with veto power — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. When the last session of the General Assembly was wrapping up its yearlong work in September, it asked the current session to start intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform by Feb. 28. An Open-Ended Working Group of the assembly has been trying to tackle council reform for the past 16 years, so moving to negotiations among governments is a step forward. Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann sent a letter Wednesday informing all 192 U.N. ambassadors that the first round of negotiations would consist of meetings on five key issues. The first, on March 4, will tackle the different categories of Security Council membership. It will be followed by meetings on the veto and regional representation later in March. The size of an enlarged council and its working methods, and the relationship between the council and the General Assembly, will be up for consideration in April, and a second round of negotiations is scheduled for May. "My sole concern rests with the integrity of the process and the attainment of decisive progress," d’Escoto said in the letter. Whether any progress can be made remains to be seen. Deep divisions forced the General Assembly to shelve three rival resolutions to expand the 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, who called themselves Uniting for Consensus, 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. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Thomas Matussek said he believes prospects for a compromise agreement "are better than they were before because against the backdrop of the international financial and economic crisis everybody talks about global governance." The question is whether countries want the world to be run by small groups of economically and politically powerful nations "or do you want it run by the only legitimate global institution that we have, and that is the U.N.," he said. "I can tell you one thing. If this drags on for more and more, the focus will shift to groups like G-8, G-20 what have you, and that will really weaken the institution, and all of us," Matussek said. Afghanistan’s Tanin said last week that "it’s up to the member states, in particular the five permanent (members), to help get the outcome that is needed." At a summit last year, Britain and France said they support permanent membership for the Group of Four, and permanent African membership, and would be prepared to support an intermediate solution if it breaks a deadlock. 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." Matussek expressed hope that the Obama administration would become more engaged than the Bush administration in council reform. "But it takes awhile to shape their policies — they don’t have a fixed position on this," he said. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.