Thursday, August 18, 2005

US sets last-minute drive to scrap UN reform plan


US sets last-minute drive to scrap UN reform plan

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has launched a last-minute drive to scrap much of a draft plan for comprehensive U.N. reform just weeks before it is to be adopted at a world summit, Western diplomats said on Wednesday.

One option put forward by Washington would be to return to square one and launch line-by-line negotiations on the document, the diplomats said, insisting on anonymity so as not to anger Washington.

But another top diplomat involved in the negotiations dismissed the others' concerns, saying the initiative was a negotiating tactic the United States fully expected would be rejected by U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping, who is leading the talks.

"Their position is still evolving. They are looking at other ways forward," this diplomat said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. effort comes in the final stages of the drafting process, with negotiators last Friday unveiling what they hoped would be a near-final draft. Negotiations resume on Monday.

It also falls two weeks after the arrival at U.N. headquarters of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, President George W. Bush's contentious choice to press for U.N. reform despite his inability to win U.S. Senate approval for the post.

The aggressive and sometimes abrasive Bolton is a longtime U.N. critic and a skeptic on the value of multilateral action who was accused by Senate Democrats of seeking to twist intelligence findings to advance Bush foreign policy goals.

The U.N. document, intended to serve as a blueprint for bringing the world body into the 21st century, touches on a broad range of issues from U.N. management reform -- a top U.S. priority -- to eliminating poverty, protecting human rights and ending the spread of nuclear arms.

Adoption of the document, currently weighing in at 38 single-spaced pages, is meant to mark the climax of a September 14-16 U.N. summit expected to draw more than 170 world leaders to New York. Bush is among those expected to attend although he has not formally responded to an invitation.


Diplomats involved in the drafting process said they feared such an extensive rewrite at this point would reopen many contentious issues thought to be settled, and could end up sinking the document altogether.

"The U.S. objections are not unexpected, but it is very late in the process," said a diplomat close to the drafting process, who also asked not to be identified by name.

A U.S. official expressed surprise that other delegates would find it unusual that Washington would seek major revisions and line-by-line negotiations at this point.

"We have been giving our input and continue to do so," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. "It is a thorough and exhaustive process that we will continue to work on until it's finished."

The United States has been a regular participant in the negotiations, and diplomats involved in the drafting said Washington has had a major impact on the document to date.

They said that was why they were surprised to learn that the United States had at this stage circulated a document that proposed eliminated most of the latest draft and suggested starting line-by-line reconsideration with all 191 U.N. members invited to the table.

The drafting has been conducted informally to date, to keep the focus on the whole package and off the details.

"Their concern is that the draft is not in their view summit-worthy -- that it would be hard to convince Bush that it would be worth his while to come to New York to sign it," said an envoy involved in the talks, who also asked not to be identified by name.

"To be fair, they are not a voice crying in the wilderness," said this diplomat, adding that developing nations also had reservations about much of the text.

But the section of the document on development and poverty was the top target of the U.S. revisions, a tactic certain to anger developing nations, which make up the overwhelming majority of the U.N. membership, the diplomats said.