The package of organisational reforms adopted by the U.N. summit at New York, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders in its 60-year history, draws flak for falling short of expectations.
THE three-day United Nations summit held in New York to coincide with the 60th anniversary of its foundation ended on September 16 by adopting a watered down package of organisational reforms. The general consensus among delegates and observers was that the summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders, achieved nothing tangible, though there were ringing calls from the 150 heads of state and government for the elimination of poverty and the eradication of terrorism. The demand for the expansion of the U.N. Security Council has been put on the back burner. The two main issues that dominated the proceedings were terrorism and Iran's nuclear programme. United States President George W. Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in their speeches on the first day of the summit, put terrorism on the top of the agenda.
Annan candidly said that the U.N. had failed in its goal "of achieving the sweeping and fundamental reforms" which the international community had initially committed itself to. He expressed his particular sadness on the decision to drop all references in the final text to disarmament. The Western countries, especially the U.S. and its close allies such as the United Kingdom and Australia, were upset by the watered down references to the need for combating terrorism. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that the final document had fallen short of addressing the threat of terrorism.
The text of the 35-page final document failed to establish an agreed definition of terrorism. Bush, in his speech at the summit, called on the international community "to put terrorists on notice". His speech stood out from his past performances in the U.N. For the first time, he appeared to be more accommodating towards the U.N. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seemed to have had a mellowing effect on him. All the heads of state offered their sympathies to the people and government of the U.S. for the havoc wrought by the hurricane. It is another story that the Bush administration had gone out of its way to undermine the credibility of Kofi Annan by raking up the controversy over allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food programme for Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush appointed John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Until recently, Bolton was carrying on a one-man crusade against the U.N., arguing that it was irrelevant to achieving U.S. foreign policy goals.
Bolton wasted no time in pushing the divisive U.S. agenda. In the first week of September, he sent letters to all U.N. member-states outlining last minute amendments to the draft proposal circulated by the U.N. Secretary-General. The amendments related to contentious subjects such as terrorism, disarmament and proliferation and called upon the U.N. to delete all references to the goal of pursuing nuclear disarmament and strengthening non-proliferation regimes. Bolton's move was against the stated desire of delegates from many countries who had argued that progress in disarmament and non-proliferation was essential to strengthening international security.
Bolton conveyed that the U.S. was not willing to honour Iran's "inalienable right" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reiterated the Bush administration's unwillingness to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Bolton's proposals did not mention either the Kyoto Treaty or the International Criminal Court. Bolton said the U.S. would not renew its pledge to pay 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) towards aid. The U.S. contribution is pivotal for achieving the U.N.'s millennium development goals (MDGs) such as poverty eradication. One of the MDGs is to halve world poverty by 2015 and ensure that every child has access to education. "The 450 changes that Washington is demanding to the action agenda that will culminate at the September 2005 United Nations summit don't represent U.N. reform. They are a clear onslaught against any move that could strengthen the U.N. or international law," wrote Phyllis Bennis of the Institute of Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Before the summit started, the Speaker of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, who was denied a visa to travel to the U.S., said that the summit "has been totally devalued, its original purpose kidnapped".
In his speech at the summit, Bush once again sought to send out a tough message to the states his administration had earmarked for "regime change". He said: "We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder. You will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world." The majority of the U.N. members, however, were fully aware of the fact that it was the U.S. that had vehemently objected to the U.N. focussing on disarmament by the big powers.
IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his first speech at a U.N. summit, criticised the U.S. as a country practising unilateralism and militarism. He offered no new proposals to end the impasse created by the Bush administration on Iran's peaceful nuclear programme. In a speech at the General Assembly on September 17, Ahmadinejad asserted that his country would go ahead with its production of nuclear fuel and accused the U.S. of violating global nuclear treaties. Demanding an end to the "nuclear apartheid", he called for the creation of a U.N. committee to investigate Israel's nuclear programme and come out with the names of the countries that helped the Jewish state gain nuclear weapons. It is well known that France, the U.K. and the U.S. were among the countries that helped construct Israel's ambitious nuclear programme.
The Iranian President reiterated that his country had the inalienable right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. In order to ensure further transparency for Iran's nuclear programme, Ahmadinejad said that his country was prepared "to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment programme of Iran". He, however, warned that if some countries try to "impose their will on the Iranian people", his government would "reconsider" its entire approach to the issue. The reference was to the U.S. and its three E.U. partners on the issue - Britain, Germany and France.
Bush lobbied hard with the Chinese, Indian and Russian leaders to support the West's move to refer Iran to the Security Council and further isolate it diplomatically. Bush met Chinese President Hu Jintao and urged him to join U.S. efforts to block Iran's nuclear programme. China refused to give any commitments to the U.S. According to U.S. officials, Hu only agreed to request Iran to follow the mandates of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Bush tried virtually to arm-twist Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into acceding to the U.S.' wishes on Iran. Washington wants New Delhi to join the E.U.-led initiative to get a majority in the IAEA Board.
The IAEA Board was to discuss, for a week starting September 19, the subject of referring Iran's nuclear programme to the Security Council. Beijing and Moscow have said that they would be voting against the move. According to reports, officials in New Delhi have indicated that if the issue is put to vote at the IAEA, India will vote with the U.S., France, Britain and Germany. New Delhi's position on the issue is being watched carefully. There are reports in the Indian media that New Delhi has already succumbed to U.S. pressure on the issue of the gas pipeline linking Iran, Pakistan and India. Senior External Affairs Ministry officials have downplayed the chances of the gas pipeline materialising any time now. Teheran has repeatedly warned that taking the nuclear issue to the Security Council would be a "grave provocation".
The other show-stealer at the U.N. was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Not surprisingly, he criticised the U.S. in his speech. He said that the Bush administration had failed its own people in its response to the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina. Chavez accused Washington of fuelling terrorism and criticised the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes. He demanded that the U.N. headquarters be shifted out of New York. "There was never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but despite that, going over the head of the U.N., Iraq was bombed and occupied. So the U.N. must be pulled out of the U.S.," said Chavez.
Chavez, echoing the feelings of the majority of the members who belong to the developing world, said that the U.N. was in need of "profound changes". He called for the abolition of the special veto powers accorded to the five permanent members of the Security Council. The U.S. media reported that Chavez got the loudest applause, among all world leaders, for his speech at the summit.
THE meeting between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of the summit, came as a dampener to many. A terse joint statement issued after the four-hour-long talks had nothing new to say. The atmosphere before the talks was sullied by calculated leaks, mostly coming from the Indian side. Pakistan took exception to the Prime Minister complaining to the U.S. President that Islamabad was not doing enough to curtail cross-border terrorism. India continues to insist that more than 30 terrorist camps still exist in Pakistan. Pakistan has denied the allegations. India, however, admits that the levels of infiltration from across the border has come down considerably.
India indicated that it had no intentions of cutting down the size of the Army deployment in the Kashmir Valley. According to Pakistani officials, it was lack of substantive progress on key issues that prompted Musharraf to refer once again to the Kashmir dispute in his speech at the U.N. summit. In fact, the Pakistani President compared the Kashmir dispute with the struggle of the Palestinians. India claimed to be taken by surprise by Musharraf's speech at the U.N. It attributed much of the sudden chill that has surfaced in India-Pakistan relations after the New York summit to Musharraf's hardened stance on Kashmir. However, both the Indian and Pakistani leaders stressed that the dialogue process is on track.
The Bush administration has been urging the Indian government to make at least some token concessions on Kashmir. The U.S. does not want Musharraf to come under more domestic pressure. Meanwhile, Pakistan is trying to take its diplomatic battle with India to a higher plane in the U.S. From available indications, it has managed to rope in influential members of the powerful Jewish lobby to its side. Musharraf got a standing ovation when he addressed the Council of World Jewry in the third week of September, during his trip to New York.