Thursday, November 8, 2007

Balkan diplomat seeks to open UN doors

Balkan diplomat seeks to open UN doors

Srgjan Kerim is the 62nd president of the United Nations General Assembly - it is where all 192 countries of the UN have a voice, but is often criticised for being an ineffective talking shop.
Mr Kerim told the BBC UN correspondent Laura Trevelyan how he wants to make the General Assembly relevant during his term as president, which ends next September.

Srgjan Kerim has little patience with the institutional corrosion of the United Nations
Take the glass door from his office, which opens onto a balcony with a panoramic view of the East River.

"I asked them to open the door for me because I wanted to breathe fresh air, and not artificial air, which is very natural because I'm a human being, not a robot, and then they told me they cannot open it because it is corroded," he said.

"And my answer to that was, 'No, the door has not corroded, the heads of the people here have corroded.' Because it takes months and months to do very simple things."

The UN maintenance men did not realise they were dealing with a Balkan politician. That door is now open.

Balkan politician

But can the ex-foreign minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be as effective in the United Nations General Assembly?

The General Assembly has 192 members, and unlike the UN Security Council, its resolutions are not legally binding.

So it can seem like a highly politicised talking shop, which debates endlessly, where the developing world and the developed world lock horns.

The president's job is to bang heads together and get things done.

Mr Kerim says: "Only the relevant agenda can make you relevant. The relevant agenda in this very moment is that you have to deal with topics like climate change, counter-terrorism, financing for development, the implementation of the millennium development goals, and management reform."

That is an ambitious list. On climate change, for example, Mr Kerim's organising debates on the topic - including one with the small island states at the UN, who are affected by rising sea temperatures.

The political negotiations on a new international agreement curbing polluting emissions begin at Bali in December.

So what will General Assembly debates actually achieve?

"I think it will be good for the negotiations because it will bring up many arguments, and cover many relevant issues - at the end of the day, you can call it a positive pressure," Mr Kerim says.

Reform attempt

Diplomats predict that during Mr Kerim's time as president, which ends next September, there will be a further attempt to get agreement on how to reform the UN security council.

The victors of the Second World War, the UK, the United States, Russia, China and France, are the permanent members of the council with the power to veto decisions.

Europe is over-represented, while Africa, Latin America, and most of Asia do not even get a look in.

So will Security Council reform actually happen this time? Mr Kerim chooses his words carefully.

"It is very relative. Reforming makes sense only if you achieve by that more transparency, more efficiency, and you reflect what is today's world situation."

The General Assembly must vote for security council reform with a two thirds majority - so does the president sense the mood is in favour?

"In general terms, yes, but I would be very cautious with making forecasts of any kind."

Mr Kerim's career as a Balkans politician and diplomat has given him a lot of experience of crisis management.

He has learned that "even bad compromises are better than conflicts."

As president of the General Assembly, he sees his job as being rather like piloting a tanker - "you have to be very careful that you move it in the right direction, and not lose navigation."

If he can navigate the General Assembly towards reaching a historic agreement on security council reform, that would be an achievement indeed.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home