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India bridges old and new at UN

world Updated: Sep 01, 2011 02:03 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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A month is too little for history making, but it was long enough for India's presidency of the UN Security Council to bequeath to the body a new way of doing business, denying the Permanent Five a monopoly over decision making.

"Normally, the P-5 collectively through their own inter-P-5 discussions cook up their own product and come and give it to the rest of the council, to either accept it or leave it," India's permanent representative to the UN Hardeep Puri told HT.

Clash of titans

But this time, they were not going to have their way.

The battleground was Syria: how to get president Bashar al-Assad to stop the crackdown on protestors and concede their demand for political reforms, and perhaps hasten his own exit like Hosni Mubarak's in Egypt.

And India was holding the presidency of the Security Council, going by a rotational plan that allows each of the 15 members to hold the chair for a month, in alphabetical order. Its term ended Tuesday.

Syria became a defining issue for the Indian presidency of the Security Council.

Three of the P-5 — the US, UK and France — wanted a harsh Security Council resolution on Syria, demanding precipitate action from Assad at the risk of military intervention perhaps, not unlike Libya.

But India with its IBSA partners Brazil and South Africa wanted to prevent exactly that, having abstained earlier from voting for a Security Council resolution threatening — and mandating — military intervention in Libya.

Russia and China — the remaining two P-5 members — tended towards the IBSA position. And neither side was willing to concede. There was, as a result, a stalemate on the issue lasting two and a half months.

India took the chair on August 1, and the stalemate was broken on August 3. A presidential statement — a notch below the level of resolution, which comes with the threat of punitive action — was issued by India.

"(This happened) because the chair treated all members as co-equals, we negotiated from the chair, and tried to find areas of convergence," said Puri, adding, "That is a new method of working."

India used its ability to reach out to all five of the P-5s individually to demonstrate that at least two of them were willing to talk to emerging powers — and not only to other P-5 members as had happened in the past.

"So the new configuration which was demonstrated – three emerging democracies India, Brazil and South Africa doing business with two of the P-5 first and then co-opting the rest of the P5 was something new."

But didn't the US, UK and France later claimed it was their hard work that finally got the Security Council, which was not moving at all despite mounting international frustration, to come out with a statement on Syria?

"If someone else wants to claim credit," said Puri, "I would in the traditional Indian way say 'be my guest'." But strange coincidence then that a stalemate of two and half months was resolved within two days of India taking the chair.

Puri, a foreign service veteran of 38 years, said India's efforts were helped by a widespread reluctance in the council to taking Syria the Libya way, opening it up to military intervention.