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U.S.: Reform U.N. before expanding Security Council

State Department says world body should focus on other issues

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

United Nations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States supports the addition of at least two permanent seats to the U.N. Security Council, including one for Japan, provided the world body meets certain criteria, a State Department official said Thursday.

Nick Burns, the department's undersecretary for political affairs, said the United States wants to address reforms in areas such as management, budget, human rights, democracy and peacekeeping before U.N. member states become preoccupied with expanding the Security Council.

But Burns said the Bush administration objects to requirements in legislation by U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, that would withhold U.S. funds to the United Nations until such an overhaul is complete.

"It would diminish our effectiveness and not allow us to push our agenda," Burns said. "The U.N. depends on our support."

He also argued that it would damage U.S. credibility and hamper President Bush's ability to conduct foreign policy.

"We hope very much that that bill would not be passed in its present form," he said.

Burns said the United States supports several proposals introduced by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, including the creation of a peace-building commission to manage post-conflict aid and reconstruction as well as the replacement of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights with a human rights council that would include only democratic countries.

The United States has long complained that countries with U.N. sanctions for human rights violations, such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, can sit in judgment of other nations.

Burns also urged U.N. members to pass a counterterrorism convention, a proposal long delayed because countries cannot agree on a definition of terrorism.

He said the United States would support "two or so" additional members to the Security Council, including Japan.

The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China hold permanent seats on the council with veto power. An additional 10 nonpermanent regional seats rotate for two-year terms.

Japan ranks second behind the United States in financial contributions to the United Nations. Other nations seeking a permanent council seat include Israel, Brazil, Germany and India.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura to reiterate U.S. support for a Japanese seat, said Burns, who called the Asian economic powerhouse "supremely well-qualified."

He said the United States shortly would unveil a list of criteria for membership, including a country's economy, its commitment to democracy and human rights, its financial contribution to the United Nations and efforts toward fighting terrorism and weapons proliferation.

Burns said the United States also may back adding two or three nonpermanent seats to the council but said no new members should be granted the veto power.

"The U.S. recognizes the United Council has to look more like the world in 2005 than in 1945," when the United Nations was established, he said.

But he added a nine- or 10-member expansion under proposal is "not easily digestible" by the Security Council and is "possibly injurious" to its effectiveness.

Two-thirds of the 191-member states would need to approve any change to the U.N. Charter that would expand the council.

The Bush administration agrees on the need to overhaul the Security Council, but Rice believes it is important to make progress in other areas before world leaders gather in New York in September for the U.N. General Assembly, Burns said.

Spending all the time to revamp the Security Council, he said, "wouldn't be strengthening the U.N., just one symptom of the illness."

"We don't want to see all of the oxygen sucked out of the room" with a protracted debate on the council, he added.

He also urged the Senate to confirm John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have questioned the temperament of Bush's embattled nominee, who has criticized the world body in the past.

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