- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

New leadership

The U.N. Security Council soon will begin informal consideration of candidates to be the next secretary-general, a marker that likely will spur additional hopefuls to come forward.

Members could start conducting straw polls later this month, said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, who presides over the council in July.

The process will be conducted in private and is meant to assess the internal odds of the candidates, who have been formally nominated by a government.

Each council member will vote privately to indicate whether he or she encourages the candidacy or discourages it, Mr. de la Sabliere said.

Ambassadors also have the option of putting down a blank card, signaling no intention to other members.

The results of their polling will be communicated to the relevant missions and, presumably, the public.

“This is not a formal vote, and it is not eliminatory but indicative in nature,” the ambassador wrote last week in a letter to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.

The value of the exercise is to show how much support each candidate has and to allow delegations to check out one another’s preliminary positions.

To date, there are three formal nominations: Deputy Thai Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Sri Lankan disarmament specialist and government adviser Jayantha Dhanapala and Indian novelist Shashi Tharoor, who also runs the U.N. Department of Public Information.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who is already campaigning, presumably will be formally nominated shortly.

The governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh have indicated that they intend to nominate candidates.

There is no deadline, and candidates will continue to be presented throughout the process.

The council and U.N. officials have said repeatedly that they would like to ensure a smooth transition with an early successor. But privately, many diplomats say they don’t expect a final selection until after the U.S. midterm elections in November.

Weapons sales

The highly anticipated U.N. conference to curb the trafficking of illicit weapons ended in failure Friday, with governments unable to agree on even basic plans of action.

The two-week conference, which touched off a storm of indignation among U.S. gun owners after it was demonized by the president of the National Rifle Association, stalled on steps to be taken by all nations to tighten up the manufacture, sales or transfer and tracing of small arms and light weapons.

Delegations, delayed by six days of speeches and then the July Fourth holiday, did not even begin to work on the final document until Wednesday, far too short a time to address concerns over so many issues.

The president of the U.N. review conference acknowledged the delay but downplayed its significance in the face of so much dissent.

“Whether we would have been able to agree on the document, I don’t think so,” said Sri Lanka’s U.N. ambassador, Prasad Kariyawasam. “I think at this point it was that views among parties with regard to how to follow up did not converge.”

U.N. conference rules require that all states agree on the program of action, in its entirety. Winning unanimity on nearly anything is difficult, but especially so on such heavily freighted issues.

Roughly one-quarter of the $4 billion-a-year arms industry is thought to be illegal. Although the conference focused on the illicit side of the weapons trade, the uncomfortable truth is that the vast majority of weapons start out as legal but fall through the cracks in complex sales, transfers and international brokering.

Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com

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