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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

27 June 2006

State Official Says U.N. Reform Process Slow, Inadequate

A more effective U.N. in all members' interests, especially developing countries

Washington -- Not enough progress has been made to date in reforming the United Nations, a senior State Department official says.

The reforms that the United States, Japan and several other U.N. members seek "should be acceptable to every member state," said Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, during a June 27 interview with Robert McMahon, deputy editor at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Developing countries have the most to gain by more effective and transparent U.N. programs, although, surprisingly, she said, many of them object to the reforms. “They have more incentive than anyone to have an effectively functioning Secretariat,” Silverberg said.  (See related article.)

The reform proposals, Silverberg said, are intended to hold the United Nations to higher standards of integrity and ethics, modernize business practices needed to function effectively and utilize members’ resources effectively to solve important problems.

"The developing countries need a United Nations that can help address critical poverty and development issues, that can address emerging diseases, [and] promote democratic reforms," she said.  "We hope we'll be able to get past some of the power politics in the debate in New York and get down to the essence of the issues," she added.

Though too slow overall, some useful reform initiatives have been approved, Silverberg said.  They include establishing the ethics office, improved "whistleblower" protections, more financial disclosure and a Peacebuilding Commission.  (See related article.)

"We think these are all a good move in the right direction," she said, "but we think the process has been too slow."

For those who fear that the new Peacebuilding Commission will supplant existing U.N. offices, Silverberg said that, on the contrary, it would not't assume any of the functions from any existing U.N. entities, but rather will serve as a coordinating body.

"It really is a way of getting all of the U.N. players, along with critical donors and other players, in one room to help make sure we are working off of a coordinated country plan," she said.

Meanwhile, Silverberg said the United States is not convinced that the U.N. procurement practices that allowed the Oil-for-Food scandal to occur have been addressed fully.

"We think that's an issue that needs a lot of attention," she said.  "[W]e intend to make sure the U.N. takes the steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again."  (See related article.)

The ultimate test of the United Nations, Silverberg said, is that it is able to take actions to address critical problems, whether preventing suffering in Darfur, supporting democratic reform in Burma, confronting Iranian nuclear ambitions or facilitating African economic development.

For more information, see U.S. and U.N. Reform.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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