September 10, 2005

Envoys inch through tough talks as UN summit looms

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A small group of key diplomats
on Saturday inched through negotiations on a U.N. blueprint for
multilateral action on a range of global problems that is to be
adopted at a world summit opening on Wednesday.

Just a few days before the arrival of more than 170 world
leaders at U.N. headquarters, the talks shifted to a group of
about a dozen ambassadors, far smaller than the so-called core
group of 32 designated two weeks earlier by General Assembly
President Jean Ping, whose progress had been judged too slow.

"It's a good thing they are meeting in a small group," said
Danish Ambassador Ellen Loj, who was among those excluded from
the talks. "You can't make a compromise when there are 300
people in the room."

With time running out for agreement on a document, which
the world leaders are to approve at Friday's close of the
three-day summit, delegates remained bitterly divided over
proposals dealing with human rights, U.N. management reforms,
terrorism, and strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding.

Delegates are working from a 45-page draft, the latest
product of months of direct and indirect negotiation among the
United Nations' 191 member-nations.

The small group of delegates, including major powers the
United States, Britain, France, China and Russia and at least
seven other nations, spent most of Saturday working on
provisions of the document on development and climate change.

Participants said progress was slow but steady but stopped
short of predicting a successful conclusion any time soon.


There were also conflicting views among group members on
whether they had begun lowering their sights, agreeing to less
ambitious goals, to speed things along as time ran out.

"We are still hoping to address every item in the draft and
get an agreement," said Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock.

"So far we are keeping our ambitions," agreed Brazilian
Ambassador Ronaldo Sardenberg. "I can't yet say I am
optimistic, but there is progress."

"We're headed toward an outcome," said British Ambassador
Emyr Jones Parry, who the evening before had expressed concern
that the talks appeared to be at a make-or-break point.

But French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere was more
reserved. "There is a willingness to move, there is movement,
but it is too soon to predict success," he said. "It is close
to the summit; we have to make compromises."

One of the most divisive issues -- and one which cut across
several provisions of the draft text -- centered on whether
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should have the flexibility
to reorder U.N. priorities and shift personnel and resources
from program to program, or whether such decisions should stay
largely in the hands of the 191-nation General Assembly.

Annan, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, and Paul Volcker, the
former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman who led a U.N.-appointed
investigation into mismanagement and corruption in the
now-defunct oil-for-food program for Iraq, all insist the
secretary-general needs considerable flexibility to be an
effective manager and want the assembly to stop micromanaging.

But small and poor nations fear giving the
secretary-general more power would enable the United States and
other big powers to use their influence at the United Nations
to justify meddling in their internal affairs on grounds of
enforcing human rights, avoiding a humanitarian crisis or
influencing development funding.

"The role of the General Assembly in all of this is
crucial," Jones Parry said.