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Annan for fast action on seat expansion

United Nations, March 21 (Reuters): Secretary-general Kofi Annan yesterday called for 191 UN member nations to make a quick decision on expanding the 15-nation Security Council but took no position on how the body should be reformed.

In a report on sweeping UN reforms, Annan, as he has done previously, said the expansion of the council was vital before a summit of world leaders in September.

But he did not take a position on either of the plans before the General Assembly or comment on whether new Security Council members should get veto rights. However, he told nations they should not wait for a unanimous decision or consensus, indicating he expected a vote.

'It would be far preferable for member states to take this vital decision by consensus,' Annan wrote. 'But if they are unable to reach consensus, this must not be an excuse for postponing action' in the still-divided Assembly.

Germany, Japan, Brazil and India, who have formed a joint lobbying group for permanent seats, will probably initiate a resolution soon that would call for the General Assembly to take a stand on 'Plan A or Plan B,' diplomats said, without specifying which countries would occupy the seats.

Plan A, proposed by a high-level panel, creates six new permanent members, plus three new non-permanent members for a total of 24 seats in the council, which now has 15 seats.

The other calls for eight seats in a new class of members, who would serve for four years, subject to renewal, plus one non-permanent seat, also for a total of 24.

The panel recommended no veto rights for new members and Annan took no position because 'it's not an issue which has driven member states,' said Robert Orr, an adviser on the report. Nevertheless, members believe that the debate over the Security Council, which has been discussed for a decade, had to be settled this year, or not at all.

Any change of the council membership needs approval from two-thirds of the 191-member General Assembly and no veto from the council's five permanent members.

Britain, France and Russia have supported Germany, Brazil, India and Japan. China and North and South Korea have doubts about Japan, which pays nearly as much in dues as the US.

Africa would get two permanent seats under 'Plan A' but cannot decide whether they should go to South Africa, Nigeria or Egypt, all contenders, along with Kenya, which recently made a bid.

Italy, which does not want to be the only large European country without a permanent council seat, opposes Germany; Pakistan opposes India; and Mexico and Argentina oppose Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country in a largely Spanish-speaking continent.

The Bush administration has pointedly refrained from supporting Germany, which opposed the Iraq war, supporting only Japan as a permanent member.

But in doing so, Germany, Brazil and India have taken heart that speaking at all about permanent membership indicated Washington supported 'Plan A.'

'Japan has earned its honourable place among the nations of the world by its own effort and its own character,' secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said in a speech at Sophia University in Tokyo last week. 'That's why the US unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan on the UN Security Council.'

Formed on the ruins of World War II, the council has five permanent members with veto power ' the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, considered the war victors in 1945. Another 10 countries now rotate for two-year terms.

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