UNITED NATIONS - African and other developing nations joined several European powers at the United Nations to denounce the veto rights of the five official nuclear powers on the U.N. Security Council, diplomats said.
The chorus of criticism began on Monday and continued on Tuesday at a closed-door session of the General Assembly on reforming and expanding the most powerful U.N. body.
Diplomats said most speakers attacked the blocking powers of the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia. As the main allies against Germany and Japan in World War Two, the five received permanent seats on the council with veto rights.
The five later acquired special status as official nuclear weapons states under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty.
According to diplomats who attended, most speakers said the veto was obsolete and should be abolished. They said the strongest criticism came from Africa and developing states.
The critics also complained that it has repeatedly prevented the council, which can impose trade embargoes or authorize the use of military force, from fulfilling its responsibility to maintain international peace and security.
The veto has been used 261 times since 1946. But Italy's U.N. Ambassador Giulio Terzi said that even when not used, the veto can alter or block the discussion of urgent issues.
"Again and again the 'hidden veto' has prevented substantial discussions of questions that are crucial to international peace and security," he said.
Recent examples where veto powers have stopped the council from taking effective action include Israel and the Palestinian territories, Myanmar, Georgia and Zimbabwe, diplomats say.
SECURITY COUNCIL EXPANSION
Last month, U.N. member states launched talks on enlarging the council so that its composition would better reflect the world of the 21st century. Diplomats say that one of the main sticking points dividing the 192 U.N. member states is whether to grant any new permanent members veto powers.
According to the text of his speech, Terzi opposed granting more countries veto powers. He also called for a moratorium on use of veto followed by its gradual limitation and elimination.
German Ambassador Thomas Matussek said the veto was "an anachronism and should be abolished." But hopes of scrapping or giving it to new council members were unrealistic, he added.
Germany, like Japan, India and Brazil, has aspirations of someday becoming a permanent member of the Security Council.
U.S., British and Russian speakers made clear they saw no need to abolish the veto, diplomats said.
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert spoke of the veto as a "weighty responsibility," adding that the French had used it sparingly -- 18 times since 1945, most recently in 1989.
Only China, with six vetoes, has used it less.
Although the issue remains divisive, Ripert and Matussek said it should not be allowed to stop what Ripert described as a "necessary and urgent reform of the Security Council."
The Soviet Union and its successor Russia has used the veto the most -- 123 times. The United States is in second place, with 82 vetoes. Since casting its first veto in the early 1970s, Washington has been its most frequent user, mostly to block resolutions it deems negative for Israel.
Britain comes in third place with 32 vetoes overall.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)