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PRESS BRIEFING BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

9 December 2004

With the opening round of informal negotiations on United Nations reform well underway in New York, the President of the world body’s 191-member General Assembly today cautioned reporters not to expect a “revolution” when all was said and done, but to expect a viable and adaptable Organization more reflective of modern-day realities.

Briefing the press this afternoon on the initial response of the world’s nations to the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Jean Ping (Gabon), said that while it was too early to tell where the negotiations were headed, Member States appeared ready to modernize the Organization, not remake it into what some believed it should be.

Mr. Ping recalled that when United Nations was conceived in 1945, the overriding ambition was to prevent another world war, and the greatest threats were of conflicts between nation States. The report –- formally introduced to the Assembly yesterday by Secretary-General Kofi Annan –- provided realistic proposals and recommendations to adapt the Organization to a world dramatically changed since the end of the cold war.

The report, entitled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”, details 101 proposals for dealing with the six areas identified as being the greatest security threats in the twenty-first century: continued poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between States, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and organized crime.

Following a steady stream of questions, Mr. Ping acknowledged that the most discussed proposal concerned expansion of the Security Council. The Panel put forward two options on the future shape of the 15-member Council, which currently has five permanent veto-wielding members -- United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France and China -- and 10 rotating members with no veto. It suggested either six new permanent or eight semi-permanent members –- none having veto power.

Asked if giving Member States only two options to choose from would make coming to a decision that much harder, Mr. Ping said he believed the Panel had set aside the matter of expanding the veto power because the issue had proved so divisive. But he recalled that during the Assembly’s general debate at the beginning of this year’s session, some States had proposed a scenario that would grant the right of veto to any new permanent Council members.

He could not say that since the panel had not included that option in their report that that option was “off the table”, and it would certainly not stop a State or group of States from discussing it or even coming up with other proposals. “That is not our wish, but of course it can’t be stopped”, he said, stressing that it was his role to move the Assembly towards taking a decision on whatever option it chose.

This led correspondents to point out that several States had suggested that all decisions regarding Organizational reform be agreed by consensus, rather than the Charter-mandated two-thirds majority of the members. Mr. Ping said that the Charter was clear on the two-thirds majority. And although everyone strived for consensus –- that was what happened at the United Nations every day –- when that could not be arrived at, the letter of the Charter must be followed.

President Ping went on to lay out what shape he expected the discussions to take in preparation for the planned high-level summit marking the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary next September. The highlight of that commemoration would be the Assembly’s mid-term ministerial-level review of global efforts to implement the Millennium Development Goals. He told reporters that a comprehensive text setting out the “road map” of activities leading up to that event -– including the organization of the Millennium Review itself -- had already been drafted and presented to Member States for their initial comments. He expected that the resultant resolution would be adopted before the end of the year.

That decision, as well as the outcome of the informal discussions now underway among MemberStates and members of the Panel -- would be critical as the Secretary-General prepared his final report, due out in March. Another key event was the imminent release of a survey on global implementation efforts, prepared by Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to the United Nations on the Millennium Goals. Mr. Ping expected the informal discussions on overall United Nations reform to pick up again sometime in January following the release of Mr. Sachs’ report.

When asked to address the Panel’s charges that the Assembly did nothing but debate minutiae, and that it had lost its vitality, Mr. Ping stressed that broad efforts to reform the way the Assembly worked had already begun. Last year, the fifty-eighth session had adopted two sweeping resolutions on streamlining the Assembly’s agenda and rationalizing the work of its main committees. Many of the changes were already in effect, but the resolutions left room for more work to be done and facilitators were working on the way ahead. He added that the Assembly would certainly look at the Panel’s recommendations.

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