U.N. Reform a Tough Sell at Meeting

World leaders gather in New York as the United Nations begins a world summit. The goal had been the adoption of wide ranging reforms for the world body. But the proposed reforms have been watered down considerably.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this afternoon amid preparations for a United Nations session that includes more than 150 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs. The session was called to mark the 60th anniversary of the world body, to reform some of its operations and to restate its goals. The problem is the document that is supposed to encompass all that has been steadily watered down in recent days, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.


A core group of UN member nations, including the US, negotiated into the night trying to craft a document that would make it worthwhile for so many world leaders to travel so far. This afternoon, the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, met with reporters during a break in the talks. While he was positive about some of the results, he made it clear that he wasn't impressed by the process.

Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (US Ambassador to the United Nations): We certainly obtained a number of priorities that we felt were very important on terrorism, on human rights, on management. There are things we didn't get. This is a negotiation among 191 countries and, you now, this is the United Nations as it is and, you know, you judge it as such.

FLINTOFF: James Paul is the director of the Global Policy Forum, a think tank that focuses on UN issues. He says that part of the problem is that the reform ideas were originally generated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and not thrashed out in negotiations by the membership.

Mr. JAMES PAUL (Director, Global Policy Forum): Had there been a negotiation process rather than a high-level panel process, I think we would have maybe seen a little more substantial reform coming out at the end.

FLINTOFF: Paul says there's a lot that's been lost in the process.

Mr. PAUL: Because the document has really gotten to be a fairly empty shell of what it was before, there were a lot of specifics in it. And one of the problems is when you have negotiations that run into difficulty, a lot of specifics get taken out in the course of--this one wants something specific taken out and that one wants another thing--and in the end, you just have a lot of hollow rhetoric.

FLINTOFF: It appears that the US and the European Union won't get much specific detail on a human rights council to replace the UN's Human Rights Commission, which they consider dysfunctional. And developing nations won't get much of what they wanted in terms of better trade conditions and aid. In all, the original document proposed reforms in seven areas. Ambassador Bolton says it's not exactly a question of disappointment in the results.

Amb. BOLTON: This is the way the UN operates and this goes to the question--this is a much longer-term question--whether you think the culture of decision-making at the UN is the most effective for the organization. And that's something that's not going to be resolved today or tomorrow, but is something that needs to be addressed in a lot of different manifestations.

FLINTOFF: Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to brief reporters on the document this afternoon. That briefing was scheduled and postponed over and over again today as the UN's chief executive had little to report on what at least one participant called `glacially slow' negotiations. The high-level session begins tomorrow morning, and the New York streets are filling with the motorcades of world leaders and battalions of police for their security. One way or another, there will be some sort of document for them to put their names to. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New York.

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