Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] President Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki has stressed that it is important to reform the institutions of the United Nations and said that there is an international will to do so. He referred to the steps that have been taken on reforming the charter, on the selection process of the secretary general, and on the expansion of the membership of the Security Council. He also talked about issues that enjoy priority on the UNGA agenda, especially the issues of disarmament, peace-building, and water. Treki said that the fight against terrorism requires removing the causes of it as well as dialogue among religious faiths and civilizations. Referring to UN resolutions related to Palestine, he said that he is waiting for decisions to be made by the Arab summit and the Organization of Islamic Conference in order to refer the Palestinian file to the UNGA. He also expected the factions in Darfur to sign an agreement on principles in Doha soon. Treki, the former African Affairs Minister in Libya, was elected in June 2009 as president of the UNGA, a position that is rotated every year among the geographic regions in the United Nations; this session is headed by Africa.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what are the most important issues at the UNGA that serve the Arab region? What is the status of reforms within the United Nations?
[Treki] Our goal is to restore the role of the United Nations that has been marginalized. It is under the hegemony of the permanent member states of the Security Council. The United Nations has also been used recently as a cover to wage wars. This is the main reason why it has lost its role. At present, there is active movement within the United Nations that seeks to give this organization a big role in bringing about security and peace and in solving major international problems. It is becoming hard for one country alone or even a group of countries to shoulder the responsibility of solving such issues, especially those related to the climate and the fight against poverty and diseases as well as the issue of security. A role is required for the whole United Nations. We have the file of restoring peace and disarmament and proceeding from this premise we encourage a role for the UNGA in solving international problems. We recall that the issue of Palestine and the Middle East began in the UNGA. The UNGA gave a birth certificate to the Zionist entity with the Partition Resolution more than 60 years ago but the issue continues to mark time and has in fact become more complicated with the settlement construction activities and Israel’s practices that reject peace. Therefore, it is important for the UNGA to regain its role. It should overcome its marginalization and play a real and effective role instead of having its role abridged into a mere member of the Quartet. We as Arabs are responsible for reforming the United Nations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do we restore the role of the United Nations?
[Treki] The restoration of the UN role requires the reform and activation of the General Assembly. Does it make sense for the secretary general to be appointed mainly by the five permanent member states and to be weak and easy to control? Thus, reform means that the UNGA selects the secretary general. It is also wrong to rotate the post of UN secretary general among the different continents because the secretary general is authorized to lead an international organization. Therefore, his selection should be at a high level – as was the case when the United Nations was first founded – and UN resolutions should be binding. We have begun to act. One coordinator is currently holding negotiations with the countries to amend the charter in order to expand the membership of the Security Council. Another coordinator is holding consultations with the members of the United Nations in order to strengthen its role. We are also seeking to establish homogeneity between the UNSC and the UNGA. In fact, when a new UNSC president is chosen every month, he visits the UNGA president and briefs him on his monthly program. This is how the UNGA is kept informed of the monthly program of the UNSC. At present, we are arranging for meetings to be held in the presence of the president and several members of the UNGA. We have embarked on a major activation process between the UNSC and the UNGA. As for the issues of peace and security, we have begun work through the restructuring of the peace committee that has been formed. We have reviewed the human rights committee and we have tasked representatives to survey the opinion of member states. A study on this issue is being done in Geneva and New York under the supervision of the UNGA president. All these steps are part of the reform process. We have also appointed representatives from the UNGA to study the international financial situation and its ramifications on the world as well as how the United Nations can play a role in this regard. The same applies to the issue of climate change. We are also discussing how to reform the management of the United Nations itself and coordination among its various institutions. A committee has been formed for this purpose. We are in the process of preparing for convening a summit for the third millennium in September in order to evaluate what has been accomplished and to draw up programs to fight poverty, diseases, and unemployment. The most important UNGA meetings are being held to discuss three main issues, namely, disarmament, peace building, and water and water shortage, the effect on climate change, and the effect of water on health.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you seriously considering the enforcement of UN resolutions pertaining to the peace process?
[Treki] The problem is that the UN charter needs to be amended. Currently, UN resolutions are not binding; they are more moral than practical or subject to implementation. That is why the charter needs to be reviewed. We now have Chapter VII of the charter that is under the control of the Security Council; this requires very hard work.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is an amendment indeed possible or is it just talk?
[Treki] The issue of amending the charter is now being raised. There are three blocs inside the United Nations and a fourth group that is slated to enter the Security Council as permanent members. These are Brazil, Germany, Japan, and India that has a special situation. South Africa recently joined these states. The issue that is being raised is does the world need more vetoes? The majority say, “No, the veto system should be abolished”. What is also being raised is for these countries to obtain permanent member status but without a veto power. There is a broad division on the issue. Germany is being proposed and Japan and the African countries have a position; namely to be represented by two permanent members and raising the number of the non-permanent members. The brother leader (Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi, suggested starting with Africa first without talking about the United Nations; in other words, not linking reform to the presence of Africa in the Security Council because it is its right. There is no dispute about this because the whole world recognizes this right for Africa. The question is who and how? This subject is discussed on the African level not on the international level. There are also the countries of Mexico, Italy, South Korea, and Pakistan. These oppose the joining of the four countries I mentioned. There are also the small countries that are a majority and that constitute more than half the members of the United Nations. These have a different position. The Arab countries also have a position. What I am trying to say is that there are several stands on the issue of reform.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the confrontation of terrorism and a possible holding of an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations in light of Al-Qaeda’s growing threat to world peace and security?
[Treki] Terrorism is a very serious topic but one should study the causes of terrorism, particularly since it emerged as the result of injustice and occupation. The UN resolutions did not achieve anything so violence emerged. In addition to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, there are also the issues of poverty and unemployment. The treatment of these issues requires material resources to end the occupation, fight poverty, and raise living standards, particularly since extremism is primarily the result of unemployment. These days, the United Nations is focusing on tackling the issue of terrorism using important means that include the dialogue on faiths and civilizations that began a few years ago by convening a conference in Spain and Turkey on an international level. We are now preparing to hold a conference in Brazil on 28 and 29 May under the auspices of the former Portuguese president. At the UNGA, we are also preparing to hold a special meeting on dialogue among civilizations. There is also a meeting that the nonaligned foreign ministers are holding in Manila dealing with interfaith and tolerance. We are also conducting an international campaign to deal with terrorism peacefully without resort to weapons.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Saudi Arabia has proposed the formation of an international center to combat terrorism and for convening an international conference on the same subject.
[Treki] This is an important proposal. We also have an international conference to combat terrorism for Africa. It is based in Algeria and is quite an active center. As I said, however, combating terrorism requires an action framework by fighting and eradicating poverty and climate change because 22 countries may disappear from the world in 15 years as the result of climate change. I mean that there is important work to be done that needs the efforts of all the Arab and African countries. As for the international conference on terrorism, it is contingent on first determining the concept of terrorism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why doesn’t the United Nations form a committee to define terrorism and then hold the conference?
[Treki] We have a definition for terrorism in the United Nations but there are disagreements on it. It says terrorism is the use of illegal means.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have the Arabs agreed to go to the UNGA to obtain an agreement recognizing the Palestinian state as was agreed at the Arab foreign ministers meeting?
[Treki] This is a good idea because the Palestinian state should be recognized within its borders in order to stop Israel’s expansion. But first an Arab decision is required from the Arab summit and the Islamic summit and then we go to the UNGA to have a resolution issued related to the borders of the Palestinian state in accordance with international agreements, namely, the establishment of the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders. The Arab countries should benefit from the European stand in this regard and they should develop it so that no one would bargain on the Palestinian borders and thus the problem of the settlements would end.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Libya is hosting the Arab summit. Do you expect such a decision on Palestine to be issued and taken to the UNGA?
[Treki] We hope this will take place during the summit. I talked to the brother Palestinians yesterday during a meeting of the late President Yasser Arafat Foundation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your meeting with the permanent representatives of the Arab League?
[Treki] The secretary general is playing a big role. There are several issues that are raised at the United Nations and he has briefed the representatives on them, especially the Goldstone Report and Palestine. There is full cooperation between the UNGA and the Arab group in New York. On 26 February, we will hold a meeting to take a new decision asking Israel to abide by the formation of a committee to determine the war crimes that were committed against Gaza in accordance with the Goldstone Report.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of removing Iraq from international custody? Is this raised in the UNGA?
[Treki] This issue is not on the UNGA agenda; Iraq is still raised at the Security Council with the application of Chapter VII on Iraq. We have high hopes that Iraq would emerge from its crisis after the upcoming elections. We hope that Iraq would form a capable national unity government and work for the departure of the foreign forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does the UNGA view the crisis between Iran and the West and its ramifications on world peace and security?
[Treki] We in the Arab world have priorities pertaining to our national security. We have an occupation by Israel that has nuclear weapons. This threatens pan-Arab security. As for the issue of Iran, we do not approve Iran’s intervention in Arab affairs, especially in Iraq. But we should not be a partner or a party to action against Iran aimed at serving interests and a strategy outside the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about peace in Sudan? Are we close to reaching it or is Sudan close to partition?
[Treki] There is positive development in Darfur represented in stability and calm and leaving the camps and returning to the villages. This is due to the efforts that Sudan is exerting and to African and international action. There is encouraging news that the Justice and Equality movement has signed in N’Djamena. Although it has signed in the past, we have high hopes that it will become stable. The relaxation in Sudan’s relations with Chad also has a major effect. It is an important and positive development for which the Sudanese and Chadian leaderships should be thanked because that contributes largely to the establishment of peace in Darfur.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Reports from the Doha Forum are talking about a peace agreement for the people of Darfur to be signed before the Sudanese elections are held. Do you expect this to happen?
[Treki] The discussions are revolving around signing a framework agreement or an agreement on principles in Doha to bring peace to Darfur. The situation in Darfur has improved a lot.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you the south to secede?
[Treki] Strong pressure was put on Sudan in the Nifasha agreement. I believe it is in the interest of the Sudanese people to preserve their unity; Sudan should not be divided. The agreement will become something of the past and Sudan will embark on complete unity of its land and people. The division of Sudan will have dangerous repercussions on Africa and the world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the threat of the report of Prosecutor Ocambo of the International Criminal Court against President Al-Bashir ended?
[Treki] The Arabs and the Africans rejected Ocambo’s report. This report affected many countries that wished to join this agreement. Some withdrew from the agreement and others are thinking of withdrawing. Thus, from the international political angle, Ocambo’s report no longer has any effect.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the human rights issue in the United Nations turned into a sword hanging over the necks of the Arab world?
[Treki] The nations of the world wish to care for human rights. Thus, no one is upstaging the Arabs. I believe that what happened during the voting on the Goldstone Report is an important indicator despite the difficulties that were practiced. We found that 118 countries voted in favor of the report and 60 countries admitted that they were told that their votes will affect the peace process in the Middle East so they abstained. Many countries in the world care for human rights but some interfere in order to make problems. The truth is there are human rights violations in the whole world and it is in the interest of everyone to be concern in this file. As I said, we in the UNGA are reviewing the structure of the United Nations. We have begun a major campaign but reform requires agreement among the permanent member states. If that takes place, the issue will then require the approval of the parliaments in these states and that may take up to five years. The UNGA may take a decision but the others will not abide by it. Nevertheless, we have high hopes that we are moving forward, particularly since there is international consensus on the importance of reforming the institutions of the United Nations.