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World: Arms, Bosnia, Reforms Dominate UN Debate

  • Sonia Winter



New York, 23 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov's address today is one of the high points in the General Debate at the United Nations' 52nd annual General Assembly. He is scheduled to be the fifth speaker after Great Britain and before Latvia.

There were few hints in advance of what Primakov's message might be to the delegates of 185 countries. But in line with most of the 12 speakers Monday, he was almost certain to express Russia's views on proposals to reform the world organization and on peacekeeping operations.

Peacekeeping in Bosnia also figured prominently in bilateral discussions between Primakov and President Bill Clinton on Monday. It seemed to be one of the few points of agreement on an agenda that included Russia's newly-revised draft law on religions, and Moscow's arms sales to Iran.

U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger told reporters after the talks that the U.S. and Russia have "a strong degree of cooperation" on Bosnia.

He said Primakov assured Clinton that Russia will not oppose parliamentary elections in Republika Srpska called by president Biljana Plavsic for October.

Berger said "that is an important development" and "eliminates any obstacles we might have had to seeing the elections ... go forward next month,"

Russia was previously believed to favor a proposal by hard-line Serbs opposed to Plavsic for joint parliamentary and presidential elections in tandem.

Berger said that Clinton also raised continuing U.S. concerns about Russia's draft law on religion.

It was revised and approved last week by the Duma, following Western protests that the legislation will discriminate against Roman Catholics, Protestants and other minority religions in Russia.

Primakov assured Clinton the revisions and the way the law will be enforced will ensure unrestricted religious freedom. But Berger said the U.S. is not satisfied and still sees problems with the draft.

He was less communicative about the discussion of Russia's cooperation with Iran that has aroused fears of nuclear proliferation in Washington. Indicating that Clinton made little headway on this with Primakov, Berger said the matter is also being raised by Vice President Al Gore in Moscow and that when reports from Moscow are in there will be more "clarity."

Arms control issues figured prominently in diplomacy also at the United Nations.

Clinton announced in a speech to the General Assembly that he has asked the U.S. Senate to ratify a global treaty banning nuclear test explosions.

Clinton called the treaty "our commitment to end all nuclear tests for all time, the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control."

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed a year ago by 146 countries, including the United States, Russia and China, but so far the legislatures of only four countries have ratified it.

Clinton delayed sending it to the U.S. Senate for a year to have time to overcome opposition by many legislators who argued that the U.S. needs testing to maintain its nuclear arsenals.

A senior staff official from the White House National Security Council, Robert Bell, told reporters that if the treaty were already in force, Russia would be obliged to explain a mysterious seismic incident in Novaya Zemlya that registered on international monitors on August 16.

He said the data could indicate an earthquake as well as an explosion and that the U.S. is still seeking clarification from the Russians.

There was little new in the rest of what Clinton had to say in his fifth annual appearance at the United Nations. He renewed an appeal to the United Nations to establish an international criminal court to, in his words "prosecute the most serious violations of humanitarian law" and expressed wholehearted U.S. support for former Irish president Mary Robinson, the UN's newly appointed top official for human rights.

As expected, Clinton also renewed a conditional pledge to pay back a large part of the money the U.S. owes for UN dues and peacekeeping expenses.

"This year ... we have the opportunity to put the questions of debts and dues behind us once and for all," Clinton said.

Delegates listened politely but seemed unimpressed. Although many agree that the UN financial system needs to be changed, U.S. officials say there is very little support for the U.S. position which would lessen the U.S. financial burden and redistribute it among other UN member states.

On the question of structural reform, however, there seems to be a broad measure of agreement in principle. Almost all the speakers Monday, beginning with Secretary General Koffi Annan, and continuing through the presentations of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Georgia's foreign minister Irakli Menagarishvili and the foreign minister of the Czech Republic Josef Zieleniec, among others expressed support for enlarging the UN Security Council.

Annan urged participants to make this "the reform assembly" in an unusual address at the start of the debate. It was the first time in the 52-year history of the world body that a UN Secretary General joined national leaders to speak in the three-week General Debate.
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