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Africa adds muscle to UN seat fight

New York, June 20: The Group of Four seeking expansion of the Security Council may become the Group of Six as the diplomatic chess game at the UN is poised to once again pit America against the majority of the international community.

Two more countries, this time from the African continent, will join the G4 after an African summit in Sirte, Libya, on July 4 and 5 to discuss UN reform, adding muscle to India and others seeking permanent seats at the UN high table.

Africa has 53 votes in the General Assembly, slightly less than a third of the UN membership.

The continent’s support will be a big boost for the G4 as it faces its biggest crisis since it was formed last year to pursue a joint, and hitherto successful, strategy on Security Council reform.

With the Bush administration deciding on Friday that it would only support countries which it can hope to manipulate to be its cat’s paw as permanent members of the Security Council, UN diplomacy is once again heading for a replay of the drama that preceded similar American efforts to bend the world body to its wishes on attacking Iraq in 2003.

As in 2003, when the Americans did their very best to get New Delhi’s support for the war in Iraq, India is once again at the centre of US moves at the UN.

This was clear from a number of fast-paced developments during the weekend across the globe, creating a dilemma for the Indian government.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan, who is in Washington for extensive talks with the Bush administration, will now return home only on Wednesday.

When his trip was originally worked out in South Block, he was to stay in the US only till Monday.

Full details of the US position on the Security Council expansion will be known on Tuesday, when the US representative to the UN, Anne Patterson, will speak in the General Assembly on the issue.

Nicholas Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, will arrive in New Delhi the same day, hoping to wean South Block away from the G4, although Bush administration sources said Burns will underplay UN reforms and stress the positive in Indo-US relations in his public pronouncements.

The G4 meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday has come at Tokyo’s initiative after US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice pleaded with Japanese foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura to at least study Patterson’s statement before tabling the G4 resolution in the General Assembly.

African diplomats here said their two representatives may join the expanded G4 even prior to the Sirte summit if African countries are able to informally agree in advance of the meeting on African representation in the expanded Security Council.

The G4 draft resolution provides for two permanent seats for Africa in an expanded Council, but it is for the Africans to decide on who will fill those slots.

Ahead of their Brussels meeting, the view within the G4 is that tabling their resolution should be delayed until after the African summit so that the group can demonstrate its strength of numbers. “America”, one G4 diplomat here said, “may be the most powerful nation on earth, but at the UN, fortunately, it has only one vote like everybody else.”

Pakistan, continuing its drive to put a spanner in the efforts to expand the Security Council, is asking the Organisation of Islamic Countries to demand a permanent seat for Muslims in the Council. OIC foreign ministers, meeting in Yemen from June 28, are expected to discuss the issue.

Arab diplomats here said Saudi Arabia is being prodded by Pakistan to put the issue of the OIC agenda. Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal said in Riyadh during the weekend that Islamic nations have a right to get one permanent seat in the UN.

But G4 diplomats said the matter could be easily resolved if the African summit nominates Egypt or another Muslim-majority state in Africa as one of its two candidates.

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