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UN General Assembly Elects Macedonian as President

24 May 2007

The United Nations General Assembly has elected former Macedonian foreign minister Srgjan Kerim as its president. He will take over when the 62nd session begins in September. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the president-elect played down expectations for radical change of the 192-member body.

The election was by consensus, in the world body's tradition.

In an acceptance speech to the assembly Thursday, Kerim pledged to help promote effective multilateralism to tackle global issues.

However, speaking to reporters afterward, he cautioned not to expect dramatic change in an organization where members often have conflicting views.

On issues such as expanding the 15-member Security Council, he said his goal will be simply to "push the stone forward".

"You know this organization started with 11, then to move to 15 it took years and years," he said. "So now we are discussing it 16 or 18 years. There is no magic stick of the president or of the secretary-general, which can make things go or stop them. I don't think that it is a problem of the organization always, and that it is inherent in the United Nations that they are not efficient by definition, by default. No, it is sometimes the lack of political will of the states."

Kerim served as Macedonia's foreign minister in 2000 and 2001, and was later ambassador to the United Nations. He is currently manager of a German-owned media company.

Because of a dispute with neighboring Greece, the country is known officially at the U.N. as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It is listed alphabetically among the 192-member countries under "T", for "The."

While many nations refer to it as simply "Macedonia," but Greece objects, arguing this amounts to a territorial claim on Greece's northern province of the same name.

When asked by a reporter about the name dispute, the General Assembly president-elect diplomatically avoided the issue.

"As you know, on that very issue, the secretary-general has his envoy," he said. "The envoy is in charge of it. The two governments, the government of Macedonia and the government of Greece, they are negotiating, talking about it, and I would leave it to them. The president of the General Assembly and the General Assembly should not interfere in that process."

Kerim assumes the General Assembly presidency September 18, when the next session convenes. His term runs for one year. He will succeed the current president Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

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