United Nations Session Opens Amid Debate Over Future
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JIM LEHRER: A testing time for the United Nations. We begin with some background from NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman.
KWAME HOLMAN: New Yorkers braced for security and traffic gridlock as world leaders descended for the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.
In its 60th year, the world organization is under revived pressure to resolve conflicts old and new around the world. Chief among them is stopping the murder and carnage in the Darfur region of Sudan by trying to persuade or force the Sudanese government to accept a U.N. peace force there. Darfur was the first order of business at the U.N. Security Council today.
During a press conference last Friday, President Bush said the United Nations has been slow to end the crisis.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I’m frustrated with the United Nations in regards to Darfur. I have said — and this government has said — there’s genocide taking place in the Sudan. The problem is, is that the United Nations hasn’t acted.
And so I can understand why those who are concerned about Darfur are frustrated. I am. I’d like to see more robust United Nations action. What you’ll hear is, “Well, the government of Sudan must invite the United Nations in for us to act.” Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a resolution saying, “We’re coming in with a U.N. force in order to save lives.”
KWAME HOLMAN: Darfur has been a top priority for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will be presiding over his last General Assembly after two five-year terms. But in recent weeks, Annan has been most visible and active trying to secure the fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon; that includes the deployment of an international peacekeeping force there.
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary-General: Almost every leader I have met felt that Lebanon was a wake-up call and we should really focus on stabilizing the situation in Lebanon and the relations between Lebanon and Israel, but not stop there, build on from there to deal with other conflicts in the region, Palestine, the Golan Heights.
KWAME HOLMAN: For much of the year, Annan has been leading an effort to change the way the U.N. and its vast bureaucracy work, a reform effort that has put the developing world at odds with the U.S., the leading proponent of reform.
Heading that U.S. effort has been its ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. But Bolton’s future is in doubt, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed to confirm his nomination. He has been serving since August 2005 under a recess appointment.
Tomorrow’s opening session of the General Assembly promises its own theater. President Bush speaks in the morning, addressing the issue of terrorism. He will be followed seven hours later by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had proposed the two of them hold a debate there. Mr. Bush has said he has no plans to meet the Iranian leader.
U.N. role in Darfur
JIM LEHRER: For more on how the United Nations will meet its various tests, we talk to Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and an advocate for U.N. reform. He was appointed by President Bush to serve as a congressional delegate to the U.N.
And Timothy Wirth, he is a former Democratic senator from Colorado, a former undersecretary of state. He's now president of the U.N. Foundation, a private organization that supports the United Nations.
Senator Coleman, first, why hasn't -- in your opinion, why hasn't the U.N. been able to stop the killing and the violence in Darfur?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), Minnesota: The U.N., unfortunately -- we need the U.N., but the U.N. hasn't stopped the killing and violence in Darfur because it can't get the Security Council to come together and act. That's one of the great challenges.
We need the U.N. today. We need them in Darfur. Clearly, we need them now. We need them in Lebanon. We need them to deal with Iran and nuclear weapons. We need them in North Korea. But the U.N. has found great difficulty in acting, and I think that's the president's frustration.
And, unfortunately, it has also found a great difficulty in reforming itself, and that's another frustration. So we have this international organization of which the need is as great as its ever been, but the ability to get things done is certainly at this point not there.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree generally, Senator Wirth, that the U.N. is having trouble getting things done right now, including Darfur?
TIMOTHY WIRTH, President, United Nations Foundation: Well, the U.N. is right now at the center of everything just about that's going on in the world. I think the effectiveness and the indispensability of the U.N. is very, very clear.
I think the weakness of the whole U.N. system is also on display. And that's that the U.N. can't do things without the permission of the major powers, essentially, and that's its basic weakness.
The situation in Darfur is exactly that. The president did the right thing, in terms of calling this a genocide, but then to get the members of the Security Council to agree on what kind of action ought to be taken is a demonstration of the fact that it takes a lot of diplomacy to get on China on board, and particularly right now.
That is something that we have to work on really hard at the U.S., by the U.S. And that's one of the frustrations of the U.N. You can't just call on it. It doesn't have an army. You can't just call on it and say, "Go into Darfur." You have to have -- and that it's indispensability, but it's weakness.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's stay on Darfur for a moment, Senator Wirth. Do you agree with President Bush that the U.N. Security Council should say to Sudan, "You're not going to invite us in, we're coming in anyhow with 20,000 troops"?
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, I think that sounds good, but whose troops are going to go in, in this situation? I mean, the U.N. has to get troops from elsewhere. The U.N. does not have an army.
It has to go to India. It goes to Pakistan. It goes to a variety of other countries to get their troops. Now, are those troops going to go into Darfur, going to go into Sudan, if the government of Sudan is going to put them in a hostile situation and they're not welcome being there? That just isn't going to happen.
Before that -- you know, and the president knows that. What we're doing is following a U.S.-drafted resolution. What we have to do is to really put the pressure and work it very, very hard -- particularly on the Chinese -- to get everybody to agree and get them to put the pressure on Sudan to have this force come in.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Coleman, how would you see it?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Well, you know, as we have this discussion, listeners have to understand a genocide is taking place. You know, we stood back in Burundi, Rwanda. We didn't deal with it. In Cambodia, we didn't deal with it. The world said, "Never again." A genocide is taking place.
I think the president is absolutely right, but the challenge is, by the way, what former Senator Wirth talked about. It is getting China, getting the Security Council together. But if we can do that -- and I think that's what we've got to do. The world has to come together and say genocide is not going to be allowed to take place. And if it happens, I think the objections of the Sudanese would be pushed aside, particularly if the Chinese came on board.
So where I would quarrel with my friend, Senator Wirth, would be, when you talk about the effectiveness of the U.N. is on display, it's not on display today. And that's frustrating.
I want it to be effective. It's not on display, and it still doesn't have a sexual harassment, a zero-tolerance policy. We're going to be sending thousands of troops, hopefully, into Darfur, UNIFIL troops into Lebanon. There's no zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. There's no procurement reform.
So the U.N.'s need is as great as ever; that's where we agree. But its effectiveness clearly is being tested. And I hope it succeeds, but I don't think it's fair to say that its effectiveness is on display today.
'Is the U.N. working?'
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wirth?
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, I think we're seeing -- two years ago, I think one would have said, "Well, what's happening at the U.N.? Is it really working?" Now we're saying, as the secretary-general has just come back from this incredibly successful trip to the Middle East -- he's doing what the U.S. government normally does, what the U.S. secretary of state normally does. He's the person that brokered, you know, that very difficult situation in southern Lebanon.
The U.N. has peacekeeping. We've got a U.N. where it was responsible for getting the elections going in Congo, Burundi, you know, Cote D'Ivoire, Lebanon, and, in fact, Afghanistan and Iraq. So the U.N. has done a lot of very, very effective -- taken a lot of very, very effective steps.
Can it do better? Of course it can, just like every institution can. Norm is going to be -- Senator Coleman is going to be one of the delegates to the U.N. And, you know, you'll have the opportunity to talk to the Chinese and, Norm, see if you can get them to help us out, you know, help them to...
TIMOTHY WIRTH: ... all of us. You know, I think it'll be really great. I mean, we all want a more effective U.N. There's no question about it. And the fact is, its indispensability has really been on display. I think it's been a very, very remarkable last six months, in particular, for the U.N.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record...
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Jim, could I jump in?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Sure.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Because you got to deal with the fact that the reform agenda, which is kind of underpinnings. If you bring troops in and you don't have a reform procurement process, you're going to run into the problems that you've run into before. If you don't have zero-tolerance sexual harassment problems, you run the risk of running into problems that we've seen before in Africa. The basic management reforms the secretary-general offered that were then rejected by the G-77, just kind of cast aside, really...
JIM LEHRER: Explain -- excuse me. Explain to us who those are. Who rejected the secretary-general's proposal?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: The G-77, the so-called nonaligned nations, 120 of them voted to reject very minimal reforms. This was kind of the beginning of the reform effort.
It's interesting, Jim, that the 50 nations that fund close to 90 percent of the U.N.'s operating budget, not just the United states, but the 50 nations that fund most of the -- 90 percent -- 87 percent, to be exact, of the U.N.'s operating budget, they voted for reform. And the 120 nations that have little skin in the game have cast aside even basic reform.
And so the ability for the U.N. to do the things that Tim and I agree need to be done -- we need the United Nations. But unless it moves this reform effort forward, I fear that its credibility is certainly at issue today and its effectiveness will continue to be at issue.
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, and some major changes have been made. Let me just differ. Norm and I would agree on the long-term goal. Some major steps have been taken.
And the White House, as a matter of fact, I will send you a copy of the press release from the White House on Friday, Senator Coleman. I mean, they just outline all the steps that have been taken. I think the White House was trying to set the stage for the president's speech tomorrow and setting that stage to say, you know, the U.N. has made some significant changes. We recognize those significant changes. I think that's a very positive thing to do. Should more be done? Of course.
JIM LEHRER: New subject. Kofi Annan, Senator Coleman, what do you think, for instance, about his statements, one on Friday and again today, about Iraq and the dire situation in Iraq?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Actually, I don't disagree with his statements about the dire situation in Iraq. He didn't say that Iraq is lost. He said, if Iraqis don't get together and maintain the kind of unity that they've been struggling to do, that we run a grave risk of civil war. I think that's a fair statement.
I think our folks on the ground see that. And so, from that perspective, I'm not troubled by that. I'm not troubled by that. You know, in Iraq -- talk about Iraq was a disaster. It was a disaster under Saddam Hussein, a worse disaster, in terms of the loss of lives, but today it is very troubling.
And so the statement about the risk of civil war, I think, is a legitimate statement. On the other hand, you've got to give the Iraqis credit. They have managed to avoid, I think, stepping fully over that precipice. They keep forging, moving forward to maintain the unity.
I'm an optimist. And in the end, we need peace and stability in Iraq. But we're not going to get that if the insurgents take over. But the Iraqis have to step up to the plate here and maintain that unity.
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, the secretary-general, as you know, has chaired a very important Iraq combat group today, bringing people together to try to, you know, get a lot of other countries to be donors, to try to lay out some better milestones for the Iraqi government. The U.N. has done that, working very closely with the U.S. government and with the Iraqis.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of marks would you give Secretary-General Annan? This is his last year. He'll be going out on December 31st.
TIMOTHY WIRTH: I think he's transformed the role of the secretary-general and been a major force for the U.N. I think he's been a remarkable secretary-general. He goes down with, you know, in the early days of thinking about the U.N. It's now involved with human rights, as it hasn't been around the world. He has done peacekeeping and the role of the U.N. on the front. The U.N. is now a very different kind of a player than it was before Kofi...
JIM LEHRER: Because of him?
TIMOTHY WIRTH: ... I think his moral leadership -- he's been kind of, people have said, a secular pope. And I think, while there have been a lot of problems surrounding the U.N., the Iraq war has made it extremely difficult to carry that job, I think he's done an amazingly good job.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Coleman, a secular pope, Kofi Annan?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Well, I don't think so. He certainly was an improvement from what we had with Boutros Boutros-Ghali. I think he has done some very positive things; I'm not discounting that.
But clearly, he was scarred by oil-for-food. He set forth the hope to reform the U.N.; it hasn't been reformed. The reform agenda is really pretty moribund today. We have 9,000 mandates that a year ago the U.N. said they'd deal with it, but not a single one of the 9,000 mandates has been changed today.
And, again, I don't want to -- he's not a bad guy. But on the other hand, I think he never got past the oil-for-food scandal. He was never able to move the U.N. forward in a reform agenda. And without that reform agenda, if you don't have a solid basis, solid foundation, your ability to move forward is severely hampered. And I think that's the reality of the U.N. today.
I do look forward to the next secretary-general and work with him and Tim for a very strong, vibrant, transparent, effective, reformed United Nations.
Relationship with the United States
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wirth, how would you describe briefly the relationship between the United Nations and the United States right now?
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, I think it's evolved. And the secretary-general has a very good relationship with the secretary of state. I think they showed that during the whole Middle East negotiation.
I would not be surprised tomorrow, the president of the United States really reaching out, embracing the U.N., thanking the U.N. for all the work that's central to U.S. foreign policy in Iran, and Iraq, and Darfur, all over the world. So I think we've come a long way from the time of, "Is the U.N. relevant? Is the U.N. useful?" And all of that kind of denigrating rhetoric that characterized the relationship before is gone.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say about the relationship, Senator Coleman?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Actually, I agree with Tim on that one. I think we've come a long way. Again, I think there are challenges. I think the U.N. right now is being tested, and I hope they pass the test.
But I think we've come a long way. And, you know, those of us who have been critical of the United Nations, not the U.N., but we're critical of the failures of the U.N. in the reform area, we're critical of what happened in oil-for-food, we're critical of the lack of action on Darfur.
So I think that we need the U.N., there's no question. And right now, the U.S. is engaging the U.N., we're engaging them, as I indicated before, in Lebanon, in Darfur, in North Korea, in dealing with Iran, throughout the world. So they are needed now more than ever.
But they're needed not just to be the U.N. because it's the U.N., but a reformed, vibrant, credible, transparent U.N. And hopefully a new secretary-general will be able to move the agenda forward.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
TIMOTHY WIRTH: Thank you, Jim.