- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

NEW YORK — The United States assumes the presidency of the U.N. Security Council today with a limited agenda compared with January 2000, when Ambassador Richard Holbrooke got a record number of world leaders to pontificate on what he billed the "Month of Africa."
"We dont have any theme or headline for this month," said acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, who will preside over the council for May. The chairmanship rotates among the councils 15 members.
"Its a month that goes around the world, dealing with peacekeeping operations or other elements of Security Council activity practically everywhere were engaged," Mr. Cunningham said in a conversation with reporters yesterday.
This is the Bush administrations first chance at the presidency, which usually affords at least one opportunity to bring an international issue to the foreground for a day or more.
But with many U.S. foreign policy programs and goals under review, there isnt much the skeletal U.S. Mission in New York can do.
The White House has named former career diplomat John Negroponte to succeed Mr. Holbrooke in New York, but his Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Sources say a June arrival may be optimistic.
Asked if, when Mr. Holbrooke departed in January, he expected to preside over the council this month, Mr. Cunningham grinned and said, "I hoped I wouldnt."
Sanctions on Iraq are probably the most pressing council-related issue for the new administration, but the Bush team is still formulating its approach to the issue. The council is scheduled to extend by six months the U.N. oil-for-food program, a humanitarian exemption to the decade-old oil embargo, on May 31.
"We dont have a strategy for dealing with Iraq," Mr. Cunningham said yesterday.
"Wherever our national deliberations stand or come out, we will have some sort of extension of the oil-for-food program. How we implement that depends on how rapidly my colleagues in Washington and then the secretary and the president come to decisions about what we think ought to be done next on Iraq."
Under that program, Iraq is allowed to sell its oil to prescreened companies and submit its shopping list of goods and services to the Security Council for approval. The council has held up some $3.5 billion worth of contracts, with most of the objections raised by the United States.
In the last year, Iraqs neighbors and several Security Council nations have grown impatient, saying the embargo has created a humanitarian disaster in Iraq.
"We havent had a focused discussion for some time because of the review of our own," said Mr. Cunningham, a career Foreign Service officer who has represented the United States at NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"Its possible that decisions will be made this month, but I dont know for sure," he said.
If the council is to focus on a single issue this month, it would likely be the conflict in Congo.
The foreign ministers of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda are to join the 15 council representatives tomorrow to discuss a recent report on the exploitation of that nations natural resources. The council will also send 10 diplomats, including council ambassadors, to Congo during a 10-day tour of the region.
Other issues scheduled to come before the security council this month include:
* The imposition of diamond sanctions against Liberia, which is accused of aiding rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.
* A ban on arms sales to Ethiopia and Eritrea, which will automatically end on May 16 with no action expected. It is the first time council sanctions have been adopted with an expiration date, and serves as a model for post-Iraq embargoes.
* Extension of the peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon by six months during the week of May 15. The same week, the U.N. transitional administration in East Timor is to be rolled over.

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