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Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Afghanistan on Security Council Reform - 8 June 2010

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

The diplomat overseeing negotiations on reforming the United Nations Security Council said today that since Member States finally had a text reflecting “all positions”, he was optimistic that talks on the issue would be more focused and the nettlesome process, ongoing for more than 15 years, could finally be concluded.

“This is something historic,” said Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, at a Headquarters press conference, where he announced the completion of a document which pulled together some 30 inputs and proposals that he had received in his capacity as Chairman of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform. The text provided a solid basis for the upcoming fifth round of talks on key issues, including categories of membership; the veto question; regional representation; the size of an enlarged Council; and the organ’s working methods and relationship with the General Assembly.

“We have come a long way since March,” Mr. Tanin continued, noting that since his last briefing to the press, he and his team had worked hard to forge a process driven by Member States. The text reflected “the widest view possible”, he said, recalling that, as per United Nations tradition, delegations did not begin concrete negotiations “until they have something in front of them”. He continued: “I’m sure this is going to be an important vehicle for the negotiations. […] After all these years of talks we are finally well-equipped with something that can take us forward.”

Citing “positive feedback,” he said all Member States had welcomed the text, calling it an important step that could provide a foundation for agreement. Member States had also appreciated that the text was objective and analysis-free. Indeed, the positions of the major negotiating groups were well known, he said, adding that he had also set out a workable structure under which negotiations could begin on 11 June. For example, the rest of the week would be spent “cleaning up” the text, resolving overlapping issues and identifying common ground.

Still, he emphasized the need for a realistic approach, pointing out that Security Council reform had been on the General Assembly’s agenda for 17 years. Nevertheless, the Chair was focused on ensuring a Member State-driven process, not on prejudging the outcome. “We are in the middle of negotiations […] it is not for me to guess what agreement will be reached,” he said, adding that there was a feeling that progress could be made now that Member States had something to work with.

Several correspondents pressed for more details on which issues were likely to be resolved most rapidly, with one saying that the use of the word “historic” seemed to presage seismic shifts in long-held regional grudges, or the indifference towards the issue demonstrated by the veto-wielding five permanent Council members — China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States.

Mr. Tanin responded: “After years of these open-ended talks, for the first time, we have a text to discuss.” While the various positions had long been known, they were now on the table in what was not merely a compilation paper, but a document from which all States and groups could work. “So this is historic in that, in the past years, Member States had nothing concrete to work with. Now they are equipped with a document […] so that if they intended to reform the Council, the basis for that reform is now in front of them.”

Asked about the well-known regional opposition to enlarging the Council to include the so-called “G-4”, or Group of Four — Brazil, Germany, India and Japan — he said: “This is a process driven by Member States. They are the masters of this process. I’m here to help them step-by-step to move forward.” Whether Member States took real action two months or two years from now was up to them, he added.

He went on to say he was nevertheless heartened to hear political leaders such as President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the United States talking about reform of the Security Council and the United Nations. He stressed that such recognition was important, as was national discussion of the issue among academics, or bilaterally as in the ongoing talks between France and the United Kingdom. The United States had been supportive of the process, he said, adding that the wider permanent membership had also participated actively in the discussions.

“We have to help the Member States talk to each other,” he emphasized. “It’s not for the Chair or the General Assembly President to find a solution.” On African representation on the Council, he said the facilitators had received the common position representing the continent’s views. The African Group had welcomed the text and expressed its intention to “engage constructively” in coming negotiations, Mr. Tanin added.

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