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29 September 2003

U.N. Has "Vital Role" in U.S. Foreign Policy, Holmes Says

U.S. will promote six priority issues in General Assembly

The United Nations plays a vital role in U.S. foreign policy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kim R. Holmes says.

"Ever since the president went to the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) a year ago and challenged the United Nations on Iraq to generally live up to its founding principles, we have seen the United Nations at the center of almost every major U.S. foreign policy issue," Dr. Holmes said in a recent interview on U.S. plans for the 58th General Assembly session with Washington File United Nations Correspondent Judy Aita.

"The General Assembly ... is a critically important part of the U.N. system," the assistant secretary said. "For that reason, we do take it very seriously."

"With the eyes of the world on it, the General Assembly can be a forum to highlight important issues that might otherwise be overlooked. ... It can generate a lot of political support around the world," he said.

Holmes outlined six priorities that the United States will pursue during the current three-month session of the General Assembly, which began the bulk of its work September 23. HIV/AIDS, economic issues, cyber-security, cloning, the protection of women's political rights, and budget restraint will form the centerpiece of U.S. efforts, he said.

Holmes was sworn in as assistant secretary in November 2002. He previously served as vice president and director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. He was also the Heritage Foundation's chief spokesman on foreign and defense policy issues, and senior editor of Heritage foreign policy publications.

The Bureau of International Organization Affairs develops and implements U.S. policy in the United Nations, its specialized and voluntary agencies, and certain other international organizations.

Following is the transcript of the interview:

(begin transcript)

QUESTION: Many people still seem unsure about how the United States views the United Nations. Where would you say the United Nations system fits in U.S. foreign policy?

HOLMES: The president and the secretary of state have made very clear that the United Nations certainly plays, in many cases, a vital role in foreign policy issues. That's certainly the case in Iraq.

Ever since the president went to the General Assembly a year ago and challenged the United Nations on Iraq to generally live up to its founding principles, we have seen the United Nations at the center of almost every major U.S. foreign policy issue. Whether it's the Middle East, the Quartet, Iraq, the Security Council, the issue of proliferation, North Korea, or the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the U.N. and international organizations have played a role.

So we take it very seriously. And we look forward to working with our colleagues in the General Assembly.

Q: On the General Assembly, what are the main objectives of the United States during the session?

A: We have a number of priorities that we will be pressing. I'll just go through them very briefly: We are going to be emphasizing the importance of protecting women's political rights. We plan to sponsor a resolution promoting the education and training of women in political processes. Women's political participation improves not only their lives, but also those of their families and communities. A country cannot become a true democracy if over half its population has little or no voice, particularly on issues like education, health, human rights, and development. The United Nations should send a clear message that this is wrong.

We also want to draw attention to HIV/AIDS. The president and the secretary of state have made HIV/AIDS a key issue for the United States. We would like to see a resolution reiterating the goals on HIV/AIDS established at the UNGA high-level plenary. And we want to ensure that the Global Fund (to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) has adequate resources. We would like to draw the General Assembly's attention to it to ensure more resources go to protecting people from this terrible disease. We hope this attention will rally the world to increased action.

On economic issues, we need to bring the vision and commitments of the Millennium Summit, the Monterrey Consensus, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to the work of the Second Committee.

We would like the Second Committee to look at concrete steps that will focus the way the committee works on economic issues so that it can better organize itself to advance the agreed goals from the Monterrey principles and the World Summit on Sustainable Development to better produce and promote economic development.

Cyber-security is another priority. Certainly on this day of September 11, we are cognizant of how important it is to protect ourselves against terrorism. Protecting the Internet and the whole information infrastructure against terrorist attacks is something that the global community must cooperate on. It is a global problem. We plan to support a resolution on cyber-security. We hope this resolution would endorse the 11 principles adopted recently by the G-8 Justice and Interior Ministers. These principles build on previous international efforts to enhance the capability of governments and the private sector to prevent, investigate, and respond to attacks on information infrastructure.

We want the U.N. to affirm that all cloning of human embryos, regardless of the purpose, is wrong and should be banned. This could be achieved either through adoption of a declaration or by agreement on a mandate to begin negotiating a convention on banning all cloning of human embryos. Human cloning is an assault on human dignity. We believe banning cloning is an important and fundamental human rights issue. Cloning an embryo for the purpose of killing it for research or other uses is morally and ethically unacceptable. We are working with other countries such as Costa Rica on a resolution based on these principles.

And last, but not least, it is a traditional position for the United States to try to influence others to exercise budgetary restraint. We will continue to promote good stewardship of the U.N.'s resources and budget discipline as the cornerstone of U.N. reform. This year will be a test for the U.N. to translate its many reform initiatives into real savings. The budget is slated to top $3 billion for the first time. Programs should be prioritized and sunset provisions included in all U.N. mandates in order to foster a culture of accountability based on performance.

Q: You have been discussing cloning with Costa Rica. Have you been discussing all the issues with other governments? How are they being received?

A: Yes. We've had many meetings. As a matter of fact, yesterday at a luncheon with 20 ambassadors from around the world, I previewed the goals and we discussed all of them. We've also discussed a number of resolutions, such as the one on cloning, with a lot of countries at the bilateral level. We have generally gotten positive responses and interest. There's a lot of interest in the women's issues, women's rights. There's a lot of interest in HIV/AIDS. I think that on budget discipline, most countries understand the need for that.

I don't see any of them as creating any great controversy in the General Assembly. So far, we've been very pleased with the response that we've received.

Q: With 191 member states, the General Assembly is often criticized as large and unwieldy. Its achievements are usually hard to quantify. How does the United States view the General Assembly? Where does it work well? How can it be improved?

A: The General Assembly obviously, from the (U.N.) Charter, is a critically important part of the U.N. system. For that reason, we do take it very seriously, which is why President Bush addressed the General Assembly.

With the eyes of the world on it, the General Assembly can be a forum to highlight important issues that might otherwise be overlooked, particularly when there is a consensus emerging around some particular issue. It can generate a lot of political support around the world.

At the same time, it is a body that has near-universal membership. Its resolutions are not binding. Sometimes there's too much repetition of the resolutions. Sometimes there is too much emphasis on certain controversial issues. For example, the way Israel is often treated in the General Assembly reflects poorly on the U.N.

So, I think, there's a growing feeling among members of the General Assembly -- including some of the leadership in the U.N. -- that more could be done to streamline the agenda of the General Assembly, reducing the number of resolutions that are not absolutely necessary or that are repetitious or divisive, streamlining the agenda to try to make it more effective, in order to raise the credibility of the U.N. itself.

We would like to have a greater focus on resolutions that are truly representative of the consensus of the international community, rather than those which are intended to divide us.

You know, it's a daunting task to reform any body such as this, but I am sensing that a number of countries are interested in that.

Q: Much of the world's attention right now is being focused on Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Liberia. These are issues that are being dealt with actively in the Security Council, for the most part. Can the General Assembly play a constructive role in helping to reduce the tensions or assist the Security Council in some way in these issues?

A: Well, the founding fathers of the United Nations and the Charter very wisely made a distinction between the responsibilities of the General Assembly and the Security Council, because they knew that in the area of international peace and security you had to have a body that reflected the capacities and responsibilities of the major world players. There was a special role for the Permanent Five (members) of the Security Council at the time of the end of World War II and even now [they] bear the major responsibility of enforcing peace and security.

The division of labor between the assembly and the Security Council in the way it was originally envisioned is still a wise way to proceed.

Q: What about the resolutions in the General Assembly on the Middle East? The General Assembly adopts several resolutions on that issue each year.

A: They tend to be one-sided. They tend to be divisive. And I think it would be more constructive if they were more balanced and created a political environment that would be more conducive to supporting peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, rather than focusing on just one side of the argument.

Q: Two recent tragic events -- the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad and the violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories -- have dominated the headlines. Do you think that these tragedies in any way will affect the work of the General Assembly -- either detract from it or divert efforts that would go to other issues?

A: The General Assembly, since it's a member organization, will be focused on the agendas of all member states. They are certainly going to be affected by the recent events in Iraq. But I hope that it will not create a distraction or a preoccupation at the expense of the agenda items.

Many countries have been working on these agenda items for a long time, as we have, and so they will bring that (work) to the assembly and its committees, and through the normal course of the debate, hopefully things will balance out. Because, again, what the General Assembly will be voting on and representing is the consensus of the international community, as opposed to what the U.N. Secretariat or the peacekeeping division may or may not be getting involved in. I think that it won't necessarily be "business as usual." They always do respond to what's happening in the news and the international arena.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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