Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Transparent Interview With the President of U.N. General Assembly’s 70th Session Mogens Lykketoft | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Mogens Lykketoft, president for the UN General Assembly, speaks after Pope Francis addressed a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 25, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The current United Nations General Assembly President, Mogens Lykketoft is considered one of the most distinguished presidents for his opinions and decisions. The U.N. did not have a similar president since the late Lebanese GA President Charles Malik who was responsible for the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Former Danish Foreign Minister, Lykketoft was able to initiate new methods in electing the U.N. secretary general in a way that gives the 193 UN member states an extra importance. A selection process based on transparency was introduced, during his presidency which somehow differed from the “usual business”. The old one normally allows the Security Council (15 countries), to decide on a name and request the General Assembly to approve what the SC has already approved.

Lykketoft, a prominent politician in Denmark, was elected last year by UN member states, as president of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, at a time when he was the president of the House of Representatives in his country, a post he held since 2011. Currently, he has taken leave from Parliament and will “retake” that post in September 2016 even though he is “legally” of “retirement” age. He was born in 1946.

In addition to his vast experience in parliament and of economic affairs, he was the Minister of Taxation, Finance and Foreign Trade and leader of the Social Democratic Party. He is also an author.

Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed Mr. Lykketoft at his office at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on various issues including his performance and relations with the SG and the UN’s unjust manner when dealing with issues related to the Arab World especially as the UN was mainly created to maintain international peace and security. Here is the interview of the veteran Mogens Lykketoft, President of UN General Assembly’s seventieth session.

1. Are you happy about what you have achieved during your presidency of the UNGA 70th session?

We have achieved much in the UN yet we have huge and outstanding challenges in relation to conflicts and humanitarian catastrophes, like conflicts in the Middle East and Africa as well as climate change and poverty. While we’ve accomplished the adoption of the goals of sustainable development 2030, we still need to implement these goals. I would say it was a productive year by adopting the development plans. (Note: the United Nations adopted 17 goals in 2016). I am happy in a sense that the United Nations came together and agreed to these goals in a consensus manner. What remains is the implementation of these goals and to eradicate poverty and fix the roots of conflicts.

2. What was your major achievement/success?

The major success was the transparency of the process to select the new Secretary-General as it has never happened before. The process was transparent and focused on the expectations of candidates on how to strengthen the organization. It was a “game changer” in UN politics. The idea of selecting the SG (in such a manner) was introduced 20 years ago, but was only done this year. The impressions made by the candidate have also influenced the discussion inside the Security Council (which is the organ that decides who the future SG will be). I am hoping that this process will lead to the selection of a very strong personality. I think the new SG should have the political and diplomatic skills and administrative experience to make the UN a stronger organization and to tackle the challenges facing the world such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the humanitarian catastrophe and terrorism.

3. What are the things that you were unable to accomplish?

The worst part was the lack of containment policy in the UN system to end conflicts. Even though the responsibility of it is on the Security Council, we at the General Assembly, suffer from it. We were unable to help the refugees yet we are hoping that the next UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on the 19 September will bring countries together to contribute generously to this cause.

4. But you will be leaving your office then?

Yes, I will hand over the presidency on the 13 September to the new president Mr. Peter Tomson. However I will co-chair the Summit for Refugees and Migrants with him on the 19th. That means I will stay in the UN until the summit is over.

(Note- The UN General Assembly will host a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. It’s the first time the General Assembly has called for a summit at the heads of state and government level on large movements of refugees and migrants and it is a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response. It is a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.)

5. What is your advice to the next GA president of the (the 71st session is Mr. Tomson of Fiji)

He has experience on development and we need to implement the SGD goals. Also, I hope he is committed to what we have started at the 70th session. I see that he is committed to carry out what we have started – for example, he is keeping some 12 people of our team. (The current president has 36 staff in total). The transition between the presidents of the 70 and 71 sessions is going very smoothly.

6. Are you happy about the selection process of the SG?

Yes I am happy. I am happy to make this a new innovation and to have the GA large membership (193 countries) and the people of the world to listen to the impressions and personal views of all candidates and to know basic question about the UN. Again, I am happy to what took others 20 years to do. We brought it to life (the selection process of the SG). The process was coordinated in every step with the Security Council. And the letter, which was signed by the President of the Security Council in December 2015, gave me the authority to start the process

7. Do you have any favorite candidates?

Yes I do, but I am not going to disclose the name as I must remain neutral as I am involved in the process of selection.

8. What is next for you? Are you going back to politics or will you retire?

I am going back to Denmark to re-take my seat. I was elected member of the Danish Parliament and I took a 15 month leave. According to the rules and procedures in my country, I can keep my post as a member of the Parliament.

9. What was the most important thing you have learnt during your presidency?

When I was asked by the Danish foreign Ministry about the GA post, I thought it would be similar to my previous post as the speaker of the Danish Parliament. But it was not. I learnt how to deal with over 193 countries and to provide guidance to them, and I was also part of the decision making in United Nations politics which was a new experience that I have learnt from. In Denmark, I was dealing with one country, but here I am dealing with many as the demands by the UN member states are increasing. As a matter of fact, I did not know that the SG selection process would take that much time from me, but it was a long process which I also learnt from.

10. How do you evaluate your relations with the SG- Mr. Ban Ki Moon? Were there any problems between the two of you?

My relationship with Mr Ban Ki-moon was great. He is very experienced and he is a kind person with a strong personality. We have had wonderful cooperation over the year. We have a monthly working luncheon to discuss various agenda. Working relations were always smooth. I also have a good relationship with his deputy Mr. Ian Janson whom I got to know in Europe. Our relationship began when he was the foreign mister of Sweden and later I became the Foreign Minister of Denmark.

11. What about problems with the SG office?

Yes, sometimes we at the GA office had some problems with the United Nations system, not necessary with SG staff. It is because of bureaucracy. We experienced some difficulties related to some issues that needed immediate attention but the system was unable to address them in a timely manner. The good part is that some staff in my office are on loan from various UN departments, so they were able to get the work done and solve the issue somehow.

12. Were you aware of the conference that was arranged by the Israeli mission to the United Nations a few months ago with the aim of confronting the BDS movement? The latter is asking the state of Israel to implement relevant UN resolutions. Do you think it was proper to have the conference held at the GA hall which was responsible for the partition of Palestine?

I am not at all aware of such a conference. However, the President of the GA is not in-charge of the hall arrangements and reservations. It’s the department of management and possibly the Department of GA and conferences. Not my office.

13. Why do you think there are many wars in the world now? What went wrong in the Arab World?

First, I think it’s the back ground to the conflict, historically, the outcome of WW1 and the western powers intervention during that period and the borders imposed on the people of the region. Also, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 created trouble in that country and the beginning of ISIS (Daesh) and the start of ethnic conflict that came to the surface because of the invasion. In summary, there are many reasons, but mainly, foreign intervention in that region is the main one.

14. How should the mess in Syria, Iraq and Libya and other countries be fixed?

In my personal view, there is no peace in Syria until every minority in Syria has its rights restored. They have to establish an institutional framework that guarantees every minority and give it a role to play in the country’s affairs. If you look at Iraq, one of the main disasters was because not every minority secured its right after the invasion in 2003. Democracy is important in these countries, but the protection of minorities is a must to sustain democracy.

15. In the above mentioned countries: who we should blame? The UN ? The 5P or the leaders of these countries?

The Security Council has failed to agree on a solution on Syria and other areas on time, it took the council 5 years after the war in Syria started to agree on a road map last December which is yet to be implemented.

16. Ideologically, almost the whole world almost has the same ideology as the Middle Eastern ideology. Jesus is from the Middle East and the majority of the western world follows his ideology. That is the same for us, we follow Islamic ideology which is a Middle Eastern ideology. For example, I am an American Muslim and you are a European Christian, we both believe in a Middle Eastern ideology, do you agree?

Yes. I totally agree, The issue is not about ideology, it’s about people’s rights and foreign intervention as well as the Security Council’s lack of action to end conflicts. We can also point the blame on the leaders of these countries and those in charge of people’s affairs.

17. How do you evaluate your relationship with the UN media/correspondents?

It’s good but I wish that journalists would cover the work of the United Nations more, both what has been done and what has not been done as well. They should push for the implementation of the SDG goals as well as recognize the role of UN peacekeeping and peace building. We hope as well to write more about the work of the Human Rights Commission so as to push governments that do not respect human rights and civil societies to do so. The United Nations can do a better job if the outside world supports it.

18. Can you comment on the death of John Ash and the case (Ash was the President of the GA for the 68 session)?

No, I will not. His case is very sensitive and brought the issue of transparency in the UN to our attention.

19. Do you think the PGA should have more power?

I think that member states of the UN would support that change. The GA became more important as the demand on its President is increasing.

20. Do you support the idea of limiting the term of the SG to one (one term of 5 years instead of 2)?

Some countries support such views. I have no personal views on that.