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

30 September 2005

Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly, struck a strong note at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon on the Assembly’s need for a hands-on approach in addressing “two realities”: on the one hand, the United Nations must try to embody the expectations of the people of the world as faithfully as possible, and, on the other, it must grapple with the all-too-real problems of poverty, disease and human rights violations, which were often sensitive and difficult topics.

He added, “This is a unique opportunity for the General Assembly to assert itself”, pointing to what he called the “important legislative tasks” of creating a Peacebuilding Commission, establishing a new Human Rights Council and finalizing the comprehensive convention on terrorism. “I have dealt with the United Nations for 25 years and I don’t think I have ever seen the United Nations with such a chance to revitalize itself”, he said.

The press conference coincided with the release of Mr. Eliasson’s letter to the Permanent Representatives of United Nations Member States. He told correspondents that, in line with his call for a hands-on approach, he had urged senior diplomats to be personally involved in the negotiations and asked them to capitalize on the momentum arising from the 2005 World Summit and the Assembly’s general debate, as they sought to move issues forward. He also said that while some Heads of Government might become special envoys to help United Nations issues remain alive abroad, he stated firmly that negotiations on United Nations reform should take place at Headquarters.

He described this year’s proceedings as a series of “concrete intergovernmental negotiations, which will be inclusive in the beginning but become more manageable” over time. Asked to elaborate on that and whether he was advocating the return of “core groups” for the sake of efficiency, Mr. Eliasson said that he did not wish to create formal side groups, but often the natural dynamics of negotiations led to the formation of such groups. For that reason, he stressed the necessity of holding all negotiations at Headquarters, rather than elsewhere in the world, so that the eventual outcome expressed the will of the entire membership.

Regarding the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, Mr. Eliasson said that he was in the midst of selecting two co-chairs to oversee the negotiations alongside him. Their names would be announced on Tuesday, 4 October, during the Assembly’s first informal plenary meeting after the release of today’s letter.

Regarding the Peacebuilding Commission, he said that the Summit’s outcome document had asked for it to be made operational by 1 January 2006, and so expected to have negotiations on that topic finalized by early November 2005. He emphasized the need for “field tests” to measure how well theoretical concepts translated into reality, and hoped to introduce those realities at the negotiations.

Moving on to the Human Rights Council, he acknowledged the greater level of difficulty posed by that issue in comparison to the Peacebuilding Commission, and said that countries’ opinions differed most drastically in that area. But he expressed a hope that a universal consensus could be achieved on the issue rather than ending in deadlock through a vote. Pressed by a questioner on how he would address persistent differences that could be potentially expressed by “spoiler countries”, Mr. Eliasson said he had not heard of any problems so far. Based on discussions preceding the release of the outcome document, he had heard positive signals from several countries moving in a direction that could lead to consensus, he said.

“If the majority view is strong and it sinks in, then that sometimes has a positive influence on those who may not have wanted to go in that direction”, he remarked. He noted that negotiations must proceed quickly on that topic due to budgetary elements, and that Member States were cognizant of that. In fact, several Member States had already expressed their desire for clarity on matters relating to the topic before the Commission on Human Rights begins its work in February 2006.

On the subject of Security Council enlargement, Mr. Eliasson said that the Assembly was currently undergoing a period of reflection, and would offer its report by the end of the year. The Assembly had planned a debate for 10 November, though he expected to take a low profile on the issue unless otherwise requested.

Regarding development, Mr. Eliasson pointed out that it was not a concrete negotiation issue like that of the Peacebuilding Commission or the Human Rights Council. But he referred to it as an issue which dealt with terrible realities. “I heard the cries of despair from countries suffering from natural disasters, and those fearing that environmental change would lead to their destruction”, he said, referring to statements issued at the recent general debate. He expressed a hope that development issues would be reviewed continuously during the sixtieth session, and not placed on the back burner to be resurrected in another five years.

Throughout the press conference, Mr. Eliasson spoke often of “bringing realities into the halls of the General Assembly”. One way in which he hoped to achieve that was to hold a thematic debate relating to development. It was his hope that such a thematic debate would bring the Assembly to life in the same way that a parliamentary debate would at the country level. A topic would be revealed soon, he said, possibly on communicable diseases, access to water or something similar. If the subject called for it, participation could extend to senior ministers in the areas of health or social affairs, he said.

Responding to a question on disarmament and issues of non-proliferation, Mr. Eliasson admitted experiencing a sense of frustration after those topics had failed to make the agenda, calling their absence a deficiency of the outcome document. He said that he had urged Member States to exercise some creative thinking to bring the issues back to the table. He knew of Member States who were already starting to discuss the issue among themselves, as well as with the Geneva Forum, the First Committee and outside think tanks, which led him to feel “pretty sure that something will come up in the coming year”.

Remarking on the Assembly’s tasks overall, Mr. Eliasson said, “This is a period of hard work. Now is not the time for trade-offs. Now is the time to deliver.”

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For information media • not an official record

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