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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

PRESS BRIEFING BY 'IN LARGER FREEDOM' SPECIAL ENVOYS

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

6 April 2005

With the General Assembly’s open debate on Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s wide-ranging reform package getting under way today, two newly-appointed special Envoys who will be travelling extensively to rally the support of world leaders met with correspondents at Headquarters today.

Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern of Ireland and Ali Alatas, former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, described for correspondents their roles as the Secretary-General’s “eyes and ears” in State capitals around the globe, where they were expected to promote the “bold but achievable” agenda put forward last month in his report, “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all”.

The two political leaders, along with former President Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, were appointed by the Secretary-General on Monday to encourage dialogue among heads of State on critical decisions to be taken by the international community to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, including establishing new rules for the use of military force, adopting an anti-terrorism treaty, and reforming key United Nations organs and institutions, such as the Security Council and the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights. The Secretary-General has proposed that those critical decisions be taken at the World Summit in New York, 14–16 September, which will review progress since the Millennium Declaration.

Chief of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown, who introduced the Envoys, said the United Nations was determined to get real momentum behind the report and the Secretary-General’s broader package deal -- even though everyone was aware that some of the details would be made over the next six months. And while the main negotiations would take place in New York, he believed the Envoys’ outreach to heads of governments to get them to buy into the importance of the strategic bargain that was in the package for all nations would provide an important “two-way channel” of communication with the Secretariat.

Convinced that the United Nations and the international community were at a unique moment to recast the global response to challenges and threats, as well as work towards real reform of the United Nations, Mr. Alatas said that he would work to build support by highlighting the benefits to be gained by all. While the Envoys would not be involved in the negotiations, they would visit countries in their respective regions and occasionally represent the Secretary-General at meetings to promote the agenda.

Mr. Ahern added that the recommendations in the report were, indeed, achievable, and now that the Secretary-General had provided leadership, it was time for the Member States in the Assembly to take up the challenge he had placed before them. The Envoys would act as Mr. Annan’s “eyes and ears” as the negotiations went forward. Their mission would be to listen and learn about the issues of specific concerns in the capitals they visited.

When the floor was opened for questions, correspondents focused on what have become some of the thornier recommendations in the report, especially Security Council reform, intervention, sovereignty and the Secretary-General’s call for agreement on the package as a whole. Having followed the Assembly’s earlier closed-door negotiations and after listening in on some of the national statements today, one reporter wondered how much Mr. Annan really expected could be achieved in September?

Other correspondents agreed, saying, among other things, that, with China reportedly opposing any attempts to put Japan on the Security Council, the United States opposing any attempts to define acts of war, the Arab world opposing efforts to define terrorism, and none of the five permanent Security Council members wanting to trade in their veto power for anything, perhaps the United Nations had bitten off more than it could chew.

“We believe this is a carefully constructed [report], where we have listened very carefully to country’s and groups of countries’ preferences and dislikes and tried to construct something that would be broadly acceptable”, Mr. Malloch Brown said, “but as we’ve said time and again, each one of the proposals has an equally hardcore constituency of friends, as it does detractors.”

To the detractors, the message would be: “Look at the other parts of the report you like and recognize that the coattails to drag those recommendations across the finish line are the bits you don’t like”. And that was where the role of the Envoys would be important -- to raise the level of debate strategically to include capitals. Ultimately, those that wanted changes would have to realize that they may not get all the changes they wanted -- there might be some hard lines in the sand that some nations would not cross. Hence, the importance of the negotiating process in New York.

“But this is all about ambassadors here seeing the cup as half-full rather than half empty”, said Mr. Malloch Brown. There would no doubt be some eleventh-hour negotiating and horse trading as the Summit drew closer. He urged correspondents to remember that ahead of major changes in the structure of the European Union, there had also been dire reports that the negotiations would peter out in politicized inertia or collapse altogether.

But, finally, some nations gave up some privileges in the smaller European “club” to make a bigger and more powerful Europe. In that same way, he hoped some United Nations Member States with entrenched rights would recognize that, while “they could keep their veto, no one was suggesting that that change”, there was some real value in making some of the other changes that would make the United Nations a stronger institution. “So, while you might have a smaller piece of cake, perhaps you’re getting a bigger cake”, he said, adding: “Those are the types of ideas we’ve got to promote over the coming months to get people to take some risks.”

To the notion that China had reportedly expressed deep reservations about being held to a timetable on some of the measures and said that it would rigorously pursue consensus on any matters involving Security Council reform, Mr. Alatas said he was aware of those views and certainly planned to visit China, as well as Japan and India, to discuss Council reform and development issues. One good thing was that many of the region’s leaders would gather in Indonesia at the end of the month to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic Bandon Africa-Asia Summit. That would provide an opportunity for Mr. Alatas, as well as the Secretary-General, to discuss crucial elements of the report at a very high level.

He went on to say that he had been following the views expressed by delegations from the “Group of 77” developing countries, and the Non-Aligned Movement and felt that, rather than being critical of the overall report, those groups of nations generally wanted more rather than less emphasis placed on the development agenda. They had also stressed that there needed to be more of a balance between development and security issues. But more would become clear in the coming months.

Some of the issues, including State sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, had long been controversial, he went on, but the situation was slowly changing, and everyone agreed that the world was facing new, difficult challenges, and that traditional notions of sovereignty and collective security perhaps needed to be re-evaluated. “[The international community] must approach all those issues with an open mind to see if we can agree on the concept of the responsibility to protect.”

A reporter noted that, although many in the Muslim world believed in democracy and the United Nations, there were equally as many who believed in neither, seeing the Organization and the principle as a “Trojan Horse” for the rich and powerful to meddle and interfere. How would Mr. Alatas set about convincing sceptics that the relationship could be mutually beneficial? “Perhaps by pointing at my own country”, he said. Indonesia was the largest Muslim nation in the world, yet it believed in democracy. “Democracy works in Indonesia.”

But the task was not necessarily to engage in debate, but to present the report and the recommendations that were worthy of common consideration and to listen to the viewpoints of the political leadership of those countries. His visits throughout the South Asian region had revealed that nations were concerned about “very concrete issues” such as the need to have a final definition and, ultimately, a general convention on terrorism. “These are the types of issues that need to be discussed and negotiated here, before we can expect consensus to arise out of this.”

Mr. Alatas stressed that it was not only China asking for consensus on the reform package; many nations held that view. But, equally as many believed that every recommendation should be voted on. And while there were bound to be countries that set out their ultimate positions on certain issues up front, the give and take of negotiations was unpredictable. Mr. Ahern added that it was fair to say that negotiations on matters concerning Security Council reform were “probably going to go down to the wire”. So, he and the other Envoys were planning to discuss the matter at length with world leaders on their visits.

Asked how the expenses of the four Envoys would play in the wake of the recent heightened scrutiny the Organization had been under, Mr. Malloch Brown said that, while he could not give an exact figure, the costs of four envoys and a very small support staff compared to the return –- achieving a reformed Security Council, strengthened human rights machinery and rapid doubling of development assistance -- was fractional, a good investment.

He said that the lead seller of the reform agenda to the United States was the Secretary-General himself. Obviously, getting the United States to buy in to the report was very important. Mr. Ahern added that he would visit Congress to promote the package and that he also had plans to meet with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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