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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2187

Sri Lanka's candidate for the top UN post talks of changing the world body

Neville de Silva - Diplomatic Editor Asian Tribune

London, 20 July, ( A front-runner for the secretary-generalship of the United Nations, Sri Lanka's veteran diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala made a wide-ranging address to the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs, London on what changes to the world body are needed to make it a more effective and representative organization.

But he warned against rushing into change or excessive tampering that could defeat the values embodied in the Charter that established the UN some 50 years ago.Jayanath Dhanapala’s e chances are rated high by many foreign diplomats to whom the "Asian Tribune" has spoken over the last few months.Jayanath Dhanapala’s e chances are rated high by many foreign diplomats to whom the "Asian Tribune" has spoken over the last few months.

He endorsed the words of Burma's U Thant, the only Asian so far to hold the coveted posted who said just prior to leaving the UN in 1971: "...To the impatient voices from all quarters calling for an end to the United Nations and its replacement with a more dynamic and more effective instrument for peace, this Secretary-General can only reply; in today's troubled world there might not be a chance to establish a new international organization-much less one better than the United Nations. Cherish it, improve it, but do not forsake it."

At a well-attended meeting at which the former president of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga was also present, Dhanapala spoke of the need to change the UN, which is generally recognized. But he warned that this should not be an occasion for a struggle for power over the organization by one group of countries over the other.

Later he also spoke to a representative gathering of politicians, diplomats and others at the House of Commons, presided over by Lord Havey, a former attorney-general, where he discussed the role of the secretary-general, its challenges and limitations.

Dhanapala who was in London to press his candidature for the post now held by Kofi Annan, also met the permanent secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sir Michael Jay and senior FCO diplomats.

Dhanapala, whose chances are rated high by many foreign diplomats to whom the “Asian Tribune” has spoken over the last few months, said that the UN Security Council is due to hold a straw poll later this month, possibly next week, which is expected to indicate the thinking among its members about the chances of the candidates whose names are now in the ring.

The straw poll is to be a kind of loose endorsement of candidates who should be considered and those who would be politely signaled to drop out.

Ultimately it is the Security Council that submits a name to the General Assembly for approval.

So far all four candidates whose names are officially mentioned are from Asia which according to the principle of rotation hitherto followed should provide the next secretary-general. But there were earlier pressures particularly from the George Bush administration which pushed for a candidate from Eastern Europe and had been keen to have the former Polish president Alexandre Wasniewski.

But Moscow appears to have shot down Washington's attempts to have a eastern European secretary-general.

Diplomatic sources also say and another permanent member of the Security Council, China has insisted that this should be Asia's turn and there should be no compromise on that.

Following Beijing's insistence, the three western permanent members of the Security Council - US, UK and to a lesser extent France, are said to be trying to persuade former Singapore Prime Minister Goh chok Tong to throw his hat into the ring.

It appears that the trans-Atlantic duo US and UK are not particularly enamored of the former Thai foreign minister Surikiart Sathirathai who had been endorsed very early by ASEAN as its nominee.

Another contender is South Korean foreign minister Bun ki moon and the late comer and a current UN under Secretary-general Sashi Tharoor.

One story doing the diplomatic rounds is that Tharoor who is the author of a book on the Gandhi dynasty, had gone over the head of the Indian external affairs ministry and sought the approval of Sonia Gandhi for his candidature. This is said to have upset the mandarins in India's South Block, implying that Tharoor is not getting all the support of Indian diplomats.

But others say this is a story floated by Indian diplomacy to cover up an attempt a couple of months ago to have the general assembly approve an Indian proposal for the Security Council to submit two names to the general membership to be voted on rather than the current practice of submitting just one name.

Moreover India which has border disputes with several of its neighbors including the long standing conflict in Kashmir which is one of the original problems tossed to the UN, and its stand on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmanent run counter to that of some of the permanent members of the SC. Therefore an Indian secretary-general at a time when New Delhi is also vying for a permanent place in an expanded security council, whose independence might be questioned seem unacceptable to some at this juncture.

If the assessments made in the wider diplomatic circles in London and elsewhere are reliable then Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala who has served for many years in the country's diplomatic service and also distinguished himself as an UN under secretary-general on disarmament and Korea's Bun ki moon would now be the front runners.

But the fact that the Security Council straw poll is being held this early instead of in September seems to suggest that Washington and London are trying to foist another Asian candidate. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to want a political figure, possibly a former leader of an Asian country.

Dhanapala leave London tomorrow for Paris for a series of meetings before returning to Colombo.

- Asian Tribune -

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