Published on Saturday, August 27, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
Britain Heads for Clash with US
Disagreement over America's bid to derail UN reform
by Ewen MacAskill
Britain will join an international alliance to confront George Bush and salvage as much as possible of an ambitious plan to reshape the United Nations and tackle world poverty next week .
The head-to-head in New York on Monday comes after the revelation that the US administration is proposing wholesale changes to crucial parts of the biggest overhaul of the UN since it was founded more than 50 years ago.
US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton
A US bid to scrap references to ambitious goals to reduce world poverty in a draft text being readied for next month's world summit got a cool reception from UN diplomats, with several warning against shortchanging development. (AFP/File/Brendan Smialowski)
But it was revealed this week that Mr Bush's new ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was seeking 750 changes to the 36-page draft plan to be presented to a special summit in New York on September 14 to 16. Mr Bolton's amendments, if successful, would leave the plan in tatters.
The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that Britain was standing behind the original plan, putting it at odds with Mr Bush.
The concern in British and other international circles is that the American objections, if adopted, would severely undermine the UN summit, the biggest-ever gathering of world leaders.
At least 175 world leaders have accepted an invitation to attend. The UN said yesterday that Mr Bush had confirmed that he would be there.
A wide range of organizations, from aid groups to the anti-arms lobby, voiced dismay about Mr Bolton's objections yesterday and expressed concern that the summit may end in failure.
The Make Poverty History campaign said there was a danger that the millennium development goals, the original reason for holding the summit, would be reduced to a footnote.
A source close to the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan said it was too early to declare the UN plan dead. "Bolton wants to knock down the plan and start from scratch," the source said. "He will find that his opinions are not shared by most of the rest of the world."
The president of the UN general assembly, Jean Ping from the Gambia, has been working on the draft, covering issues of poverty, climate change, genocide, small arms, the creation of a permanent UN peacekeeping capability and reform of the UN management structure, for the past year.
A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that the UK and the European Union, of which Britain holds the presidency, "are broadly content with the summit draft. It reflects the ambitious agenda thrown up by Kofi Annan".
The spokesman said it was "important that we do not row back from previous high-level summits", such as the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in July and the UN millennium summit in 2000.
He stressed that a lot of negotiation on the draft still lay ahead. "There is a long way to go before leaders meet in September."
As well as divisions about the agenda, the summit is in danger of being overshadowed by the publication of an internal UN report into the running of the organization's oil-for-food program in Iraq from 1996 to 2003, which was beset by scandal and corruption, by Paul Volcker.
UN officials are worried that Mr Volcker's final report, tentatively scheduled for September 6, could severely damage Mr Annan's reputation and raise questions over whether he could continue as secretary-general.
Mr Bolton's comments provoked a negative reaction from many agencies involved in development work.
Martin Kirk, the public affairs adviser of Save the Children, said this year had promised so much for the world's poor, but, "instead of a breakthrough we are now looking at a possible retreat from the millennium development goals by the UN".
Nicola Reindorp, the head of Oxfam International's New York office, said: "We are less than three weeks away from the UN world summit and the next two weeks are crucial in determining the outcome ... If the US and other governments substantially weaken the outcome document, the summit will result in failure."
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