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UN: Romania To Take Coveted Seat On Security Council

Already on track to join NATO and the European Union, Romania next year will also take its place at the horseshoe-shaped table of the powerful UN Security Council. With a foreign policy similar to that of Bulgaria, its predecessor on the council, Romania is expected to support the United States on major security issues. But Romania's new UN ambassador says he hopes to avoid the trans-Atlantic rifts that emerged in the run-up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

United Nations, 24 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Romania will begin a two-year term on the UN Security Council in January, assuming a post that is seen as a diplomatic boost -- and at times a burden -- for many states.

The UN General Assembly's vote yesterday selecting Romania to succeed Bulgaria was not a surprise. The UN's Eastern European regional group chose Romania as its candidate earlier in the year to take over the seat.

The 15-member Security Council is the world's preeminent security body and its resolutions can be legally binding on all 191 UN members. The 10 nonpermanent members have a secondary role to the five veto-wielding permanent members but they can propose resolutions, chair committees and hold the rotating presidency for one-month periods.

UN experts expect Romania to assume a role similar to its neighbor Bulgaria, also a candidate of NATO and the EU, in support of Washington on security matters. Bulgaria was among the few countries on the council to publicly support the U.S. position in the months preceding the war in Iraq.

Like Bulgaria, Romania has contributed military personnel to current U.S.-led coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also gained stature and multilateral experience by chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe two years ago.

Romania shares the U.S. concern that the rise of terrorist groups and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose a chief threat to global security, its new UN Ambassador Mihnea Motoc said.

Motoc told RFE/RL his country seeks to actively contribute to antiproliferation efforts. "We are a front-line country for both the future enlarged EU and NATO, and from where we stand, it is clear that if you want to be safe at home, you don't just combat these risks in your own jurisdiction but you need to get out of your territorial boundaries and try to prevent proliferation of the said risks," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush last month announced plans to introduce a resolution on curbing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. France is among the states which support the measure.

But the United States and France were chief opponents in the U.S. campaign to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration said Iraq had breached its disarmament obligations and was in danger of spreading weapons technology to terrorist groups.

France led a faction of Security Council states opposed to military action and favored maintaining weapons inspections. The council impasse and eventual U.S. decision to go to war marked a low point in UN history.

Motoc said Romania aims to maintain strong ties with its EU and U.S. partners and would try to bridge any differences between the two. He stressed Romania does not see its role as simply aligning with one position or another. "What is paining us the most is when you have even the impression that there can be diverging or different views on the two sides of the Atlantic," he said. "So the natural particular response to such potential situations would be to try to contribute to bridging the gaps and if, at the end of the day, that is not possible I think we have a series of parameters to look at and finally take a decision that is rightful for our national interests."

The Security Council last week passed a resolution calling for an accelerated handover of powers to Iraqis and conferring UN authority on the multinational military coalition in the country, under U.S. command. The council faces more big decisions on Iraq down the road that will test the unity it sought to show in last week's vote.

Romania and other new members Brazil, Algeria, Benin, and the Philippines could figure greatly in those deliberations. Throughout the debate leading up to the Iraq war, a group of six "swing" states on the council -- all nonpermanent members -- refrained from formally endorsing either of the main positions.

They faced intense lobbying from both sides. But they failed to generate their own initiatives, which further weakened the council, said David Malone, an expert on Security Council affairs and president of the International Peace Academy. "They haven't always been very impressive in terms of their ability to formulate alternative approaches to those being urged by Washington and Paris," he said. "And one hopes that with the Brazilians in particular on the council the nonpermanent members will be able to advance independent ideas that may be helpful in bridging the divide between Washington and Paris."

Malone said the skills of Security Council ambassadors can be crucial to forging consensus on difficult issues. He said the Brazilian and Algerian envoys, Ronaldo Sardenberg and Abdallah Baali, are likely to make the most impact of the new council members.

But Malone, a former Canadian UN ambassador, also remarked on the dynamism of the 36-year-old Motoc, who previously was state secretary in Romania's Foreign Ministry.

Edward Luck, who directs Columbia University's school on international organizations, agrees that strong diplomats from small countries can be effective in the Security Council. "An energetic nonpermanent member may not make an enormous difference in the big votes, but behind the scenes they can be quite important and I think they can help to affect both the kinds of issues that the council addresses and also some sense of where the priorities of the council lie and how active the Council itself turns out to be," he told RFE/RL.

Aside from the reconstruction of Iraq, Motoc said Romania will take a close interest in Kosovo, which the UN has run for four years as a protectorate.

He reaffirmed his government's support for the UN formula "standards before status," in which Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders must achieve certain reform benchmarks before the province's final status question could be addressed.

Motoc said it is natural for countries on the Security Council to project their national interests but he is mindful of their broader responsibilities. "Romania, and other members of the Security Council for that matter, are not there in a national capacity, are not there in a regional capacity. You are there to deal in this body of 15 with the global challenges and threats and menaces to peace and security. So nothing is indifferent to you. You cannot be more active on some issues to the detriment of others," he said.

Romania last served on the Security Council from 1990 to 1991. It was involved in a number of key votes on Iraq at the time, including the resolutions imposing sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime and authorizing military action to drive his forces out of Kuwait.