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No one who antagonises P-5 can be elected: Tharoor

In an interaction with journalists, the author-diplomat blended pragmatism and idealism as he enunciated his priorities.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 16:33 IST

Saying that no one who is not acceptable to the P-5 can get elected, Shashi Tharoor, India's nominee for the next UN secretary general, Tuesday unveiled his vision of a "much more nimble, flexible, modern and reformed UN" that will cooperate with the five permanent members to achieve broader reforms.

In an informal interaction with select journalists, the author-diplomat blended pragmatism and idealism as he enunciated his priorities if he were to be elected as the next secretary general, succeeding Kofi Annan whose term expires at the end of the year.

"(UN) Management reform is one of our top priorities. We need a much more nimble, flexible and modern UN," Tharoor said a day after he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and described himself as "India's national offering to the world".

The words are likely to be music to the ears of the US, which has been trumpeting reforms of the UN secretariat as the overarching issue that needs to be addressed before other items like expansion of the Security Council could be considered.

"I am absolutely convinced that reforms are essential. I set about reforming my own department, which was in a bad shape and even shut down eight offices in the West. It's a model for the rest of the secretariat," Tharoor, UN undersecretary general for communication and public information, recalled.

A UN bureaucrat for the last 28 years, Tharoor also spoke about reasserting the primacy of the UN in global decision-making.

"In the globalising world of the 21st century, the UN remains the indispensable global forum to which every country belongs."

Tharoor tempered this idealistic vision of a robust UN system with pragmatic strategy on winning the support of the permanent five members of the UN - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - who hold the key to winning the race for the top UN job.

"A future secretary general who sufficiently antagonises one of the P-5 members could again find himself in the situation of Boutros-Boutros Ghali (he was referring to former secretary general who incurred the wrath of the US and was consequently denied a second term)," he replied when asked how he will handle American pressure and recurrent interventions of the US in UN decision-making.

"No one who is not acceptable to the P-5 can become elected," he said referring to the US, Britain, France, China and Russia. "An effective secretary general is the one who can work with all member nations, including the P-5.

The practical reason that any UNSG has to cooperate with P-5 is that you can't achieve results without them," he added.

The 50-year-old, Kerala-born Tharoor listed out his singular strengths that qualified him to become India's official candidate for the UN top job: his extensive experience with the list of issues the UNSG is expected to deal with and his handling of sensitive areas, including human rights, refugees, peacekeeping at the peak of the cold war and a quintessential insider's view which working in the office of the UNSG has provided him.

He also underscored his talent for handling the media and his ease with diplomacy in the age of 24X7 TV news channels.

"The future secretary general must have the ability to be as comfortable in front of TV cameras and microphone as in conference halls and debating chambers."

Sounding upbeat about his bid for the UN top job, he quoted a Ghanaian proverb which his mentor and Secretary General Annan is fond of citing about keeping the P-5 in good humour.

"You must never hit a man in the head when you have your fingers between his teeth," Tharoor quipped.

When asked how his election as the UNSG will benefit India and whether it will involve a conflict of interests, he said: "An international civil servant has a duty to the UN charter and not to the national passport he holds."

"I will not be seeking in any conscious way to benefit India. I believe in the independence of the national bureaucracy," he added.

What about India's favourite theme of Security Council expansion and its soaring ambition to find a seat on the UN high table?

"It's not going to happen overnight. But it will continue to be on top of the agenda. As Mahatma Gandhi said you must be the change you wish to see in the world. If the UN needs to change the world, it has to change itself," Tharoor said.