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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of International Organization Affairs > Reports to Congress, U.S. Votes, Fact Sheets, Testimony > Other Remarks > 2005 International Organization Affairs Speeches/Remarks

U.S. Priorities to Strengthen the United Nations

Kristen Silverberg, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
December 20, 2005

MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to our first briefing of the day. It is with our Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, Kristen Silverberg, who's here to talk about the year that's almost behind us and the year that's almost ahead of us in terms of what's been accomplished on UN reform and how we see the way ahead in meeting the challenges of UN reform in the year to come.

So I will, without further ado, bring on Kristen. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Thank you all for coming. I thought I'd spend just a minute updating and then I'm happy to take any questions.

To begin, I am very pleased to announce that as of this morning we have final agreement in New York on the Peace-Building Commission, which was one of the high U.S. priorities for reform. There are about 70,000 peacekeepers, UN peacekeepers deployed around the world in places like Sudan, Ethiopia, Haiti to help those missions help move countries from post-conflict situations into longer lasting stable democracies with growing economies. We think the UN should have this mechanism to better coordinate across the UN function, to coordinate both the peacekeeping operations and the development and reconstruction functions. So we're very enthusiastic about the Peace-Building Commission. We're grateful that we had such productive discussions over the last few months and are now at the point where we can adopt the resolution and begin implementing it.

I can also announce progress on the Democracy Fund, which was first announced by President Bush, or called for by President Bush, in September '04. The Democracy Fund now has received commitments of $44 million from 20 different countries, so this is a great success. We're very happy that so many countries have rallied around this idea to help make the UN more effective in promoting democracy.

These are important successes. We're very happy about them. However, one important point I'd like to make today is that the Secretary remains very concerned about the lack of progress on management reforms. We think that a compelling case for management reform was made by the Volcker Commission, by the bipartisan Gingrich-Mitchell Task Force, and by many others. These are reforms to both improve ethics and oversight at the UN, to ensure that UN resources are spent effectively -- budget reforms and personnel reforms, reforms to make sure that personnel at the UN is put to the highest and best use.

Despite heads of state-level endorsement of the reforms in September and many months of discussion, we have not seen an adequate commitment in New York to move forward on them. The U.S. is pushing very hard; the Secretary is fully resolved to push ethics and budget reforms at the UN. We think it's enormously important.

One idea for keeping focus on these reforms, which we've proposed, is to adopt an interim budget. We have suggested that the UN should give itself three to four months, no longer, to finally implement all of these reforms. Adopt an interim budget of that period, but not adopt the full two-year budget until after the reforms are in place.

Ambassador Bolton has made very clear that this is just one idea for keeping focus on the reforms; there may be others. We are very open to other ideas that would ensure implementation of the reforms. We have a lot of flexibility on the mechanism, but we think it's enormously importantly that the UN move forward on management reforms early this year.

With that, I'm happy to take any questions.


QUESTION: I have two questions. First of all, on the management reform issue, do you hold member-states responsible for this or do you hold the Secretariat? Is the Secretary General, at this point, an impediment to achieving that or is he helping you?

And secondly on the budget, how are you -- what's your strategy to actually convince the others to go for the three- to four-months time period?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: The Secretary General has been a good partner. He endorsed most of the management reforms we're pursuing -- were originally proposed by the Secretary General. Ultimately, member-states have responsibility for adopting these reforms, for the most part, require resolutions in the General Assembly. And it's a member-state responsibility to make sure they happen.

That said, the outcome document gave some specific responsibilities to the Secretariat to come up with proposals. And just to give you one example, the outcome document suggests -- asked the Secretariat to review all of the older UN mandates. So the mandates that have been in place for 10 to 15 years, programs that keep operating but without a rigorous review of whether they still make sense, are serving their purposes, that's something we'd like the Secretariat to produce sooner rather than later. We've been concerned that it hasn't happened already. We, the Japanese, the Germans and others have been working to make suggestions to the Secretariat on mandates that we think could use special scrutiny. But that's something that we hope the Secretariat can move more quickly.

On the tactics, again, the budget proposal, the interim budget proposal, is a mechanism. Our objective, fundamentally, what we want to happen, is to have the management reforms in place. And there may be other mechanisms for getting that done to make sure that we come up with some way to keep focus on management reforms. Ambassador Bolton has very regular -- several times a day -- conversations with his colleagues in New York, with his Geneva Group colleagues -- those are the group of the largest UN donors -- with many of the regional blocs on ways that we can move forward in implementing the management reforms.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up on the management reform issue in your first answer? Either I'm obtuse or there's too much bureaucratic language. Is the fault, then, in the slowness in the UN, when you refer to the Secretariat, is in the UN bureaucracy as opposed to member-states?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Ultimately, this is a member-state responsibility and when member-states want this to happen, it will. Ultimately, this requires resolutions in the General Assembly for the most part. And so we need member-states to make a firm commitment that these management reforms will be put in place.

QUESTION: A follow-up? It's kind of two questions, I guess, on the opposite sides of the coin. You say it's a member-state responsibility. I mean, have you gotten the proper kind of lists and reviews of all these programs from the Secretariat? I mean, are -- do you feel as if the Secretariat is doing its part? And also, it's -- you're expecting them to do it in like three to four months. It's a massive bureaucracy. Is that a realistic timeframe?

And then, just one more if I may, the Secretary General is the chief administrator of the United Nations, as Nicholas pointed out. I mean, doesn't he bear some responsibility here for keeping the trains working on time and there's been a lot of praise of the Secretary General but, I mean, certainly, he does bear responsibility for getting this done ultimately, doesn't he?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Let me give you just some examples because that might spell it out more clearly. There are some things, like the enhanced whistleblower protections, strengthening those protections so that people can disclose evidence of wrongdoing or a heightened financial disclosure requirement. I was surprised to learn that until recently at the UN most disclosures of gifts were only required if the gift was above $10,000. They're in the process now of lowering that amount to $250. Those are some ideas where the UN has come up with some specific proposals. We need in some cases a General Assembly resolution, which obviously the Secretary General doesn't have a vote in the General Assembly; member-states have to make that decision. And so, but the Secretariat can help move them along by coming up with specific proposals, and in those cases they've done that.

In another case, what we refer to as mandate review, which is what I mentioned about reviewing all of the older UN programs to make sure they still make sense, that's something the Secretariat has not come up with specific proposals on. And we hope they do that very quickly. So yes, I think it's fair to say that the Secretariat has the responsibilities but, as I mentioned, ultimately this is a member-state role.

QUESTION: In your timeframe, I mean, you just said earlier in your opening remarks that you'd hope everything would be done within three to four months. With the kind of reforms, management reforms, that you're suggesting, I mean, is three to four months a reasonable amount of time or do you think that's too ambitious for such a massive bureaucracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We think these things could have been in place already. Something like the Ethics Office, that made sense a long time ago and it's something that should have been adopted today, we think. That said, what we've proposed is for the UN to give itself a few more months to finally implement the rest of these proposals. So we think it ought to happen early this year. We think that's quite doable and reasonable, but it's going to require real focus and attention from the member-states.

Any other questions? Yes.

QUESTION: Obviously, you're showing an urgency about getting the management reforms done. What exercises other countries is the UN Security Council reform. Where do you stand on a timetable for that? How soon would you like to see a different council?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We -- the United States supports expansion of the Security Council. We have said that in any case expansion should make the Council more effective rather than less effective, and so to that end we've proposed a series of criteria that member-states should look at in deciding whether a particular country ought to become a member of the Council. Some of the criteria we've laid out, or that we should look at, a country's commitment to the organization, which can be evidenced by financial contributions or by contributions to peacekeeping operations, by a number of different things. We've said that we ought to look at whether a specific country is a responsible player in the international community. Is it a democracy? Does it respect human rights? Does it respect nonproliferation requirements? We've also said that we ought to look at the fact that the developing world is underrepresented on the Council.

So we've laid out some criteria. We've said that any expansion ought to be something that's done with broad consensus. This is enormously important and the decisions we make about the Council today will affect the Council for decades to come. You know, just looking back at the Council's agenda over the last few months, we get -- it makes clear how important its responsibilities are for peace and security. It dealt with expansion of the multinational force mandate in Iraq, with Syria issues, the Council received a briefing on human rights problems in Burma recently. It's enormously important to the world that the Security Council work effectively.

So we've said that this should happen carefully and with the view to consensus. We do not have a specific timetable in mind. We actively discuss this issue with other member-states but we think that ought to happen with some broad-based consensus.

QUESTION: From the criteria that you're mentioning, does -- do you want China to be off the Security Council?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We have said that Japan should be on the Council. We have not proposed and we don't believe anyone else has proposed changes to the existing P-5. The one country we have said should be on the Council that is not currently is Japan. We have not expressed a view with respect to any other member.

QUESTION: I see. So the criteria that you're mentioning are only to be looked at for countries aspiring to become a Council member?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We have outlined criteria that we want to apply when we're looking at who is not currently on the Council should be on the Council.

QUESTION: So isn't that a little counterproductive though, because won't the countries that are excluded because of that, you know, sort of criteria, just point to China and say, "Well, they don't meet the criteria." So the criteria is, you know, irrelevant.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We -- as I've said, we think that when we're expanding the Council -- the Council works pretty well today, not always perfectly, but it can manage to do some really important things. And over the last few months, it has done very important things. What we want to make sure is that we maintain that level of effectiveness. And so when we're thinking about making changes to the existing Council, we want to look at what are the things that can keep the Council effective and strong and also make sure that it can deal with these problems going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) as a follow-up. Do you still oppose Germany's membership?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We have not expressed a view for or against Germany's membership. The only country we've expressed a view on is Japan and we've said that Japan is a -- it's an important contributor, it pays close to 20 percent of the UN budget, it's a strong supporter of peacekeeping operations, it's a responsible player in the international community. And so we support the addition of Japan as a permanent member. We have not expressed a view with respect to any other country.

QUESTION: But you did say that there were one -- you said that you supported the addition of a couple, if I remember the exact phrasing, but it was one or so --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: What we have said is that any expansion should be modest. That we would not support a broad expansion, which we think would undermine the effectiveness of the Council. So we've said up to 20 or 21 members, including two or so permanent members, two or three non-permanent members. So we've said that we are very open to expansion along the lines of that. But the only specific country that we expressed a view on is Japan.

QUESTION: One quick follow-up (inaudible) and that is that the criteria you said for Japan, the same can be said for Germany, that it's a --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Again, the only country we've expressed a view on is Japan. We've not expressed a view on any other country.

QUESTION: Are you in negotiations -- not negotiations, but how intensive are your discussions with other countries that are bidding for permanent membership?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We have very regular discussions on the issue. One thing we've said is that the focus right now in New York should be on reform of the UN, in particular in management reform. But we very actively discuss this with a range of members.


QUESTION: I want to go up to this broad issue of the "right to protect," which is another big part of this reform, and whether or not you think that's being implemented in any way, shape or form and taking a look at, particularly, Security Council action on Darfur. Has it been enough --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: The Outcome Document in September endorsed this concept which we thought was very important on "responsibility to protect," which is, first, the responsibility of nations to protect their own citizens and the responsibility of the international community, acting through the Security Council, to act in cases of genocide and other threats. This is something that in every specific individual case, we take very seriously. The U.S. has been a leader, obviously, on Darfur issues. It remains a very high priority at the highest levels of the Administration, from the President, the Secretary, Deputy Secretary Zoellick works on this very regularly, in fact, was in Darfur recently. This is an issue we have brought before the Council, recently with respect to Burma. The briefing on Friday was the first time the Security Council has received a briefing on Burma issues. To get that, to ensure that that briefing could happen, we engaged very actively. Under Secretary Burns made calls, a number of high-level calls, to urge support for it. So making sure that we as a Security Council member always push the Council to follow through on its responsibility to protect citizens is a high priority for the Administration.


QUESTION: Can I come back to the three- to four-month interim budget thing?


QUESTION: How much support can you say you have with this idea of yours? And do you have any other ideas that you are willing to look at?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: As I said, we're very open to other ideas. There are lots of ways to keep focus on management reform and we're debating pretty regularly in New York what they might be. We think that there is -- there are a number of countries that feel the same concern we feel about the lack of progress on management reform. We think it's a widespread view that we need to do something to keep focus on the reforms. Ambassador Bolton has regular meetings with his counterparts on the issue. I don't want to play up the negotiations in this forum, but I will say that we think that there's growing support for the notion that we need to take some strong action to make sure that management reforms are implemented.

QUESTION: Can you name some countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I'll say among the countries we talk to very regularly are Japan, the UK, Australia, Canada, many others.


QUESTION: There's obviously a lot to do and so far it's been difficult to find consensus on issues. So I wonder if you could just speak to how the diplomacy is going. A lot is always written about Mr. Bolton's style, but what are you doing to try and create consensus?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Sure. Well, there are two, sort of, different kind of approaches. There's our approach in New York, and to go to your note about Ambassador Bolton's style, he has been a very effective -- in the few months since he arrived -- has been a very effective advocate for the U.S. Just to point out some of the big successes we've had since he arrived at post, we had two unanimous resolutions on Syria. We had a unanimous extension of the Iraq multinational force mandate. I already mentioned the Burma issue. We had a counterterrorism -- a strong counterterrorism statement in September. We had one of our most successful years in recent memory in the Third Committee on all of the human rights issues, both our Iran resolution, North Korea, Burma, Uzbekistan. We had, with strong U.S. support, the first Israeli-led resolution passed in the General Assembly.

So we think he's been a very effective player in New York. To help him with all of his efforts, it's important that we back in Washington use all of our diplomatic persuasion to try to reach out to capitals. And so to that end, the Secretary has engaged very actively, the President, of course, did personally in New York and on some recent trips, the Deputy Secretary and particularly Under Secretary Burns has made UN reform one of his high priorities. Under Secretary Dobriansky is particularly engaged on human rights issues. The Secretary announced last spring a Senior Advisor on UN Reform who is devoted to outreach on these issues full time. That's Ambassador Sharin Tahir-Kheli. She recently returned from a very productive trip to Pakistan, India, Delhi -- I'm sort of remembering, I just can't remember her itinerary. And of course, I engage on these issues very actively.

I think just to give you one stat, I think just only counting Under Secretary Burns, Ambassador Tahir-Kheli and I, I think that we've met with about 120 countries on UN reform items and we've made about, between Ambassador Tahir-Kheli and I, we've made trips to about -- over a dozen capitals to talk about these issues. And individual demarches from our embassies and capitals, I think we've delivered about a thousand individual demarches in capitals on UN reform items.

QUESTION: So when I asked you about Mr. Bolton, you praised the things he's done but not about UN reform. What is he doing there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, the Peace-Building Commission is a great victory from this morning, and that was something that Ambassador Bolton took a very personal interest in. All of the reforms -- you'll remember when the Outcome Document was adopted in September, Ambassador Bolton personally negotiated the bulk of that Document, including some late-night negotiations at one in the morning in the lead-up to the summit. So on UN reform also he's been a very effective advocate for the U.S.


QUESTION: You say you are very satisfied with the progress on the Democracy Fund, but $44 million seems very little and 20 countries it's not much either. How do you plan to gather more people around this project?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I think 44 million is a great success. Actually, when you look at the size of most UN programs, voluntarily funded programs, along these lines, it's really, I think, a big victory. You'll remember that the Democracy Fund was only established late in August, so the fact that so many countries have rallied around this quickly and been willing to write checks to the Fund is really a great testament to the support for this kind of activity.

QUESTION: These are not pledges; they are actual cash, they are actual checks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: It's a combination, and I can give you the -- I can follow up and give you the exact. But the bulk of it, I think 30, is actually contributions but I'll have to double-check.

QUESTION: But still, 44 million may not be too little, but 20 countries out of how many members of the United Nations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, remember that this is a newly established fund, voluntary commitments. This is the kind of thing that countries are contributing to in addition to all of their other UN assessed and voluntary contributions. So for something that hasn't even begun making actual grants yet, which we expected to do this spring, it's great news that so many countries are endorsing this kind of thing early on.


QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about the Human Rights Council reform and how you think that's going?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: The Working Group on the Human Rights Council has been meeting very actively. Regular, active negotiations started November 28th and are continuing through this week. There are still some very serious philosophical disagreements about what the Council should do.

We think that the Commission on Human Rights was largely discredited for two major reasons: one is that it was co-opted, in some cases, by some of the worst abusers of human rights -- Libya, Zimbabwe and others -- and so we've said that we need to see some membership improvements in the new Council on Human Rights, that the worst offenders should not be eligible to serve on the Council. So we've proposed that any country that's under sanction for human rights abuses should not be eligible to serve on the Council.

There is a belief from some countries that we should never exclude a country from membership in anything. We reject that. We think that if you're a country that is going to express views on human rights, that's going to be responsible for providing technical assistance to other countries on human rights, you should have a demonstrated commitment to treat your own people appropriately.

The second big issue on which there's a disagreement is the mandate. We think that the Council, to do its work effectively, needs to be able to call attention to grave and urgent cases of human rights abuses and Darfur is a perfect example. This goes back very much to our responsibility, our commitment to "responsibility to protect" issues. The Council has to be able to call attention when there is a grave and urgent case emerging.

There is a view from some countries in New York that this kind of country-specific resolution would embarrass countries. Again, we reject that. We think that it's important to shine a bright light on human rights cases to encourage countries to correct them.

QUESTION: Are those redlines for you? I mean, they seem pretty basic that if you're going to create a new council that has any effectiveness that it would be --


QUESTION: -- some kind of membership criteria.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Membership -- some improvement in membership and a strong mandate are very important U.S. redlines.


QUESTION: Still on this. I don't want you to name countries but --

QUESTION: Yes you do. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, please -- no. But are you -- I assume that many of those countries that don't agree with you are actually democracies. Am I right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: There really is a split. There are some countries that respect human rights and are democracies that have this view, this concern about sort of UN involvement or meddling in internal affairs. There also are many countries on that side of the debate who do not have good human rights records. So our job -- we're not going to persuade some countries on those issues. Some countries have not made a strong commitment to human rights, but we are working very hard to persuade the countries who share our view of the importance of these issues that it would be better to have improved membership and a very strong mandate.

QUESTION: And what do the countries who share our "views" give as a reason for opposing your --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I think, again, these two views, one is that you shouldn't exclude people from the UN and I explained our response to that; and the other is this idea that you don't want to -- you don't want to politicize bodies and we very much agree that this should not be a political body. This ought to be something that's really apolitical and objective and works primarily to help countries deal with their human rights situations.

But as I said, some countries have no interest in internally addressing human rights challenges and you need to be able to call attention.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: On the democracy part, is the --


QUESTION: -- has the United States pledged or written a check and for how much?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Yes, for $10 million. The President announced that I think in -- I think he announced it in '04 but I'll have to double check on the date.


QUESTION: Back to the human rights. I'm just wondering if there are these philosophical differences, I mean, where does the U.S. go from there if, you know, there's such opposition to what, you know, the U.S. is fighting for?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: This is where the importance of our diplomacy in capitals is so important, both in New York and in capitals. And so we very regularly -- this was an important priority for Ambassador Tahir-Kheli on her trip to talk about the purpose of the Council, why we think it's enormously important that we address the problems with the Commission. And so we're steadily making progress on all of these issues, both in New York and in capitals, but it's going to be -- it's going to require some more time of heavy lifting.

I think that's it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) still responsible for not letting you say those names of those countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: (Laughter.) Yes, but you said, say no names.

QUESTION: Can I assume that there are European countries among them, Western European countries among those who would disagree with you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: No, no. In fact, we have strong support from the EU on our human rights agenda. I think that the EU has been arguing very actively that we need to have some kind of exclusion for countries that are under sanctions. So I think we have very strong support.




Released on December 20, 2005

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