UN Reform Talks on Brink of Collapse
13 September 2005
U.N. diplomats are working down to the wire on a document to be adopted at a summit of world leaders beginning Wednesday in New York. The document had been planned as a blueprint for U.N. reform and poverty alleviation. But negotiations on the document have stalled.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton emerged from a marathon negotiating session Monday to say he is still hopeful that talks on reforming the world body could result in an agreement.
"I'm not giving up. This is not a 60-minute clock like football. We've got time. We're going to keep working," Mr. Bolton says.
That cautious optimism, however, was belied by the comments of other U.S. officials. Spokesman Richard Grenell told reporters early in the day that talks had broken down on at least two of Washington's priority issues.
The possibility of stalemate cast a pall of gloom over prospects for a successful summit only hours before 150 presidents and prime ministers are to meet in a gala 60th anniversary observance.
A scheduled final session of the 59th General Assembly, which was to have been addressed by Secretary General Kofi Annan, was postponed late Monday in a swirl of chaos and confusion. Asked if a summit failure could be averted, outgoing Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon waved his hands mysteriously. He said he would give negotiators one more night in a last-ditch attempt to find a compromise.
"Negotiations are going on. Tomorrow we'll meet and close the session," Mr. Ping says.
The talks have until late Tuesday morning to reach an agreement. That is when Mr. Ping hands over the General Assembly gavel to incoming President Jan Eliasson of Sweden at the ceremonial opening of the 60th General Assembly.
Despite the late hour, diplomats are still holding out hope of compromise. Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger called the possibility of failure "unthinkable".
"We will reach some compromise before the summit because it is inconceivable that 150 or more heads of state and government come to New York and have nothing to decide," Mr. Pleuger says.
Secretary General Annan, who has pushed hard for reform, spent the day Monday in meetings with both incoming and outgoing General Assembly presidents, and consulting with ambassadors and world leaders on negotiating tactics. His spokesman Stefan Dujarric admitted there is a sense of urgency in the secretary-general's office.
"The clock continues to tick. The negotiators have left things perilously late in light of the date of the summit, which was announced well in advance. He's concerned the work may not be done on time, but he's not giving up," Mr. Dujarric says.
Diplomats involved in the negotiations say finding agreement on the document will likely require cutting it down to bare essentials on which all 191 U.N. member states can agree. That, they say, would turn the declaration into little more than a statement of general principles, and a setback for efforts to reform the badly battered world body as it enters is seventh decade.
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