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UN: World Body Seeking Central Role In Terrorism Response

  • Robert McMahon

The effort is continuing in United Nations chambers to give the world body a central role in the campaign underway to combat terrorism. The United States is taking part in UN Security Council discussions on possible collective counter-terrorism actions but has not indicated whether it will seek council authority for military action.

United Nations, 24 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Amid continuing expressions of international support for the United States, nations are discussing how big a role the United Nations should play in coordinating the response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The UN Security Council on 21 September received a briefing from the United Nations' top legal official, Hans Corell, about the existing international conventions against terrorism.

Current council president, French ambassador Jean-David Levitte, said the council was reviewing its options before deciding what its next step would be:

"Let's discuss the substance of possible action of the Security Council and then when we will be ready, we will know how it will be appropriate to adopt any decision."

The council is due to resume discussion of its options this week. Specifically, Levitte said, council members will determine how to follow up a unanimous resolution passed the day after the 11 September attacks. That resolution said the council was ready to "take all necessary steps" to respond to the attacks.

Council members have said they are not certain whether it is necessary to pass another resolution to formally authorize the use of force. The United States has threatened to take military action against the Taliban if it does not hand over the top suspect in the attacks -- Osama bin Laden -- and close down terrorist bases. The UN charter permits states to act in self defense after they have come under attack.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United States needs no additional approval from the United Nations to respond to the attacks. But she also said Washington will study what steps can be taken with the United Nations.

European Union states gave their support on 21 September to what they called "targeted" retaliation against countries harboring terrorists and said they were ready to assist in such action. Meanwhile, both China and Russia said they would be willing to discuss sharing intelligence information with the United States on terrorist activities.

A growing number of states have expressed a desire to cooperate in a broad anti-terrorism coalition. There are already 19 global or regional treaties pertaining to terrorism.

The General Assembly is set to discuss the issue in general debate on 1 October. That discussion is expected to lead to a broad new international convention against terrorism that could encompass areas such as ending the financing of terrorists, strengthening airport security, and sharing information.

But UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, speaking at a news briefing on 21 September, noted that past differences on defining terrorist groups have complicated efforts at creating new counter-terrorism conventions:

"Some serious difficulties continue to exist on draft elements of the convention, including on the definition of terrorism, the relationship between the convention and other legal instruments that deal with terrorism, and the difference between terrorism and the right of people to self-determination."

Any new international instrument on terrorism would take years to finalize. The head of the UN anti-crime agency, Pino Arlacchi, on 21 September urged UN member states to ratify existing conventions to help battle terrorism.

Arlacchi in particular appealed for approval of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted by states in December 1999. The measure has so far been ratified by only four states and needs 22 ratifications to take force. The measure obliges states to freeze or seize funds found to be used to help carry out acts of terrorism.

UN states are already under order of the UN Security Council to abide by an economic and military embargo of the Taliban. Pakistan, the chief ally of the Taliban, has agreed to share military intelligence with the United States, permit its airspace to be used by American military aircraft, and to provide U.S. access to military facilities in pursuit of terrorists based in Afghanistan. The United States later lifted sanctions against Pakistan that were imposed over its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Shamshad Ahmad, insisted on 21 September that his country was acting out of its international responsibility to fight terrorism:

"The government of Pakistan has taken a decision which it believes is not only in conformity with international law but also in conformity with our vital national interests, so the government is convinced of the righteousness of the decision."

Ahmad also downplayed the opposition of some Pakistani Muslims to the country's decision to assist the United States. He said it was time to shift the world's focus "from the media screens to the conference rooms" of international diplomacy.