We will have Security Council reform by end 2011-beginning 2012: Hardeep Puri (Interview)

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Sunday, January 2, 2011

WASHINGTON - As India takes a seat on the Security Council Monday after 19 long years as a non-permanent member, its top UN diplomat, Hardeep Singh Puri, is hopeful that New Delhi will gain a permanent place on the global high table by next year as he expected “Security Council reform” to take place by the end of 2011 or beginnning of 2012.

“We are ready now to test the waters on a more enduring membership on the Security Council”, Puri said.

Based on the pace of negotiations so far, “I am reasonably optimistic that by the end of 2011/ beginning of 2012 we will have Security Council reform”, Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the UN, told IANS in a telephone interview from New York.

Dismissing suggestions by a US official that UN reform, to which India’s permanent membership is linked, is a long way off, he said: “All I can tell is that we were thrilled by President (Barack) Obama’s ringing endorsement of India’s bid for permanent membership.”

“Secondly, the 30-page-long negotiating text which has been in the making for almost a year is likely to be reduced as a result of the intergovernmental negotiating process to a two or three page text.

“And then we are looking at the final stages of negotiations for an outcome of reform. I think we are looking at a very high probability, likelihood of a reform by the end of the year,” Puri said expecting the talks to begin by February.

The envoy also took exception to reports that India will be on watch during its two-year term as an elected member as it tries to prove to the major powers that India can be a reliable permanent partner on the council and has the capacity to take up the associated responsibilities.

“India is the world’s largest democracy. It’s a country of 1.1 billion people. It has a sui generis experience in nation building,” Puri said. “So anyone suggesting that we will be under probation or there is some watch list … I don’t want to comment on that.”

“The facts will speak for themselves. So wait till we begin work on the council,” he said.

Asked about India’s role and priorities in the Security Council, Puri said: “We would like to strengthen the Security Council to make it more effective and efficient.

“Clearly in the first instance, we have to participate in the present agenda of the Security Council, 75 percent of which deals with African issues.”

“Then we are also extremely interested in utilising the Security Council to pursue issues of interest to India,” he said. “Many of the issues of concern to us, concern to our immediate neighbourhood, provide possibilities in the Security Council.”

Citing terrorism as an example, Puri noted that a UN committee deals with terrorism, another deals with listing of entities like Al Qaeda and Taliban and issues relating to peacekeeping. “All these we propose to pursue.”

The envoy said it’s possible that an impression has gained ground that India is for a far more restrictive use of the Security Council to address many of the world’s problems, “because we haven’t been on the Council for 19 years”.

“But whether we like it or not, the Security Council today deals with almost every subject which is of importance to the UN,” he said, noting that last year alone it had produced hundreds of resolutions, press statements and outcome documents relating to issues ranging from the situation in the Middle East to terrorism to post-conflict peace building.

“So whether a country wants to have a restrictive use of the Security Council is not important. The fact is the Security Council today is the most important and the highest decision-making body of the United Nations.

“This is the reality of the Security Council and, therefore, as an aspirant to permanent membership of the Security Council, we have no choice, and we have every intention to participate in all work of the Security Council.”

Puri did not expect India’s membership of the Security Council to affect its voting pattern on issues like Iran and Myanmar.

“Our votes will be in pursuance of our national interest. Naturally how we want to shape the outcome, that’s how the countries vote,” Puri told IANS, declining to comment on a report that the US now expected India to vote more with it.

“We had a very open discussion on the convergence factor. My own view is that our convergence with other countries is much higher. Therefore, I think we should get our facts straight.”

Puri said he and other envoys of the Security Council members had an “excellent” meeting with Obama in Washington last month.

“Well, the President was meeting the entire Security Council and both in the meetings on the (Capitol) Hill, the National Security Council and the president, we covered an entire range of issues which involved the agenda of the Security Council as it is presently.”

Attributing India’s election to the Council with an overwhelming majority to “team effort” by Indian envoys around the world and the “political guidance of the Prime Minister”, he said: “Strategy for the next goal is we will put our best foot forward and it’s a strategy which is already evolving.

“The 187-out-of-190 vote clearly shows that our position in the international community is acknowledged,” Puri said.

“We have put the past behind us and we are ready now to test the waters on a more enduring membership on the Security Council.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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