Interview with UN General Assembly President Al-Nasser
By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN) - UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser is committed to convening a conference directed at establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
"I continue both personally and through my office to lend all possible support to formal and informal efforts and events dedicated to a timely convening of the 2012 conference. These efforts will continue," Al-Nasser told Global Perspectives, IDN's monthly magazine for international cooperation, in a wide-ranging, exclusive question-and-answer interview.
The conference, he pointed out, is a key interest of the 193-member world body which has on numerous occasions endorsed the importance of keeping the Middle East free of nuclear weapons, "in the context of promoting international peace."
Other highlights from UNGA activities covered in the interview included the Arab Awakening, Palestinian membership of the UN, the Millennium Development Goals, South-South cooperation and aid effectiveness.
Al-Nasser who is from Qatar assumed the UNGA presidency on June 22, 2011 after a rich and varied diplomatic career. He was Qatar’s permanent representative (ambassador) to the UN from 1988 to 2011. During that period, he was president of the UNGA high level committee on South-South cooperation, and chairman of the Group of 77 and China.
The UNGA President's commitment to pursuing the nuclear-weapons-free zone conference falls within the four priority areas he has selected for emphasis during his term in office: mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, UN reform and revitalization, improving disaster preparedness and response, and sustainable development and global prosperity.
In other comments related to the Middle East he said that the international community has “a moral and practical duty” to support the Arab Awakening.
Q: What would you describe as the highlights of your term as president of the UN General Assembly until now?
Al-Nasser: Since I took over the Presidency, it has been a very busy period not only for the United Nations but also the international community as a whole, with the UN General Assembly getting increasingly vocal on issues of democracy and human rights. This is particularly relevant in the context of the countries experiencing the Arab Awakening. The Assembly has been active in encouraging the necessary global partnership to assist the governments and people in the Arab World to benefit from this Arab Awakening.
I have enjoyed very close collaboration with the UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon. We had two important joint visits to Libya and Somalia to show the UN working as one to help address the challenges facing millions of people, especially women and children, in these two countries. In the context of Libya, I effectively used my authority and leadership as President of the General Assembly to restore the legitimacy of the Libyan people’s representation at the UN by inviting the Transitional National Council to take the Libyan seat in the General Assembly.
Another significant moment has been to preside over the General Assembly’s General Debate in September when we all watched Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas articulate Palestine’s case for recognition as a Member State of the UN and submitted its application amidst thunderous applause. This is undoubtedly a high point of my Presidency.
During my Presidency of the GA so far, the GA has adopted a much-welcomed resolution on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. Its particular importance lies in the fact that these diseases are now the biggest cause of death worldwide, with millions of people in the developing countries being the victims. But many of these deaths are preventable and this resolution is aimed at addressing this unacceptable situation.
I also travelled to Finland, Switzerland, Japan, and Korea in the context of various dimensions of the work of the General Assembly, especially those related to the four key themes I have chosen for the on-going session of the General Assembly, namely, Mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; Improving disaster preparedness and response and Sustainable development and global prosperity.
There is still much more work to be done in the remaining eight months of this session. The complexity of the multilateral process, political sensitivity of the member-states, big or small and the elaborate maze of responsibility that the President has to undertake in steering smoothly the work of the world’s most universal and highest-level forum is difficult to outline in an interview like this.
Q: Do you expect the Arab Spring to profoundly impact the work of the UN in general and of the General Assembly in particular?
Al-Nasser: I would describe the events that are unfolding in the Arab world as the Arab Awakening rather than the Arab Spring as that is much better forward-looking description of what has happened and is ongoing. I believe that the Arab world is going through a very significant moment in the history of the Middle East, perhaps more significant than the decolonization era. At this point, the international community has a moral and practical duty to support the call for equality, social justice and a better future coming out of the Arab world. But it is essential to point out that the democratic transformation should be accompanied by an economic and social transformation that is home-grown and that asserts national ownership. The UN has a central role in building consensus and galvanizing collective political will in favour of this transformational process. The UN can provide capacity development opportunities to these countries. In fact, the UN has dispatched its experts to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in exploratory missions to assess the areas where UN assistance is needed and could be provided upon request of these countries. Anyone who has been following last September’s General Debate at the UN would have realized that the majority of world leaders were supportive of this on-going wave of freedom and democracy in the Arab world.
Q: Are there any realistic prospects of Palestine becoming a full member of the UN in the near future – by 2014, for example, 40 years after PLO was given an observer status at the UN?
Al-Nasser: I cannot see any reason why this shouldn’t be the case. The Palestinian people have the right to pursue or seek the membership of any international body including that of the General Assembly as sovereign peace-loving state. We have all witnessed the very supportive response that Member States and delegations gave to the speech by President Abbas on Palestine’s application for full UN membership.
As you may well know, already many countries have recognized the state of Palestine. A Security Council Committee has submitted its report to the Council on this matter. The Palestinians have not announced their plans yet about the next course of action that they would prefer. If the Palestinians take their bid to the General Assembly seeking a permanent observer status as a state, then just a simple majority of those present and voting (out of the total UN membership of 193) is required. Let us see what the Palestinian leadership decides.
Q: The UN Millennium Development Goals envisage eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. But on all accounts very little has been achieved by now to fulfil that ambitious goal. On top of it, according to a UN report, the US-EU financial crisis is threatening to spill over to developing countries. Is there anything the GA can do, has done and plans to do to avert things getting from bad to worse?
Al-Nasser: The Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs) are very practical benchmarks in measuring progress of the global development cooperation, as identified by the United Nations. It was under the auspices of the General Assembly that world leaders gathered in New York in September 2000 and agreed on these very important landmark goals. A lot of work has gone into the achievement of the MDGs and a number of countries have done well in making progress with regard to one or more goals. I am, of course, aware that a lot more needs to be done by all of us if we are to achieve these goals.
I would urge all Member States to double and intensify their efforts as the 2015 deadline approaches fast. Despite the worldwide economic and financial downturn, I believe it is in our best collective interest to do our best for the achievement of the MDGs.
In all my meetings with world leaders, ministers and other high officials I continue to urge them to do more for “Sustainable Development and Global Prosperity” which is one the four areas of special focus of my Presidency. This is why the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June in Brazil is very important. It can surely give an extra push to efforts towards the achievement of the MDGs and take the UN’s development agenda forward.
Q: You are known to be a champion of South-South cooperation. Is there any prospect of such cooperation preventing an MDG fiasco, influencing public opinion and impacting life on the ground as North-South development cooperation has done all these years?
Al-Nasser: Yes, I have been personally deeply interested and involved in issues pertaining to South-South and Triangular Cooperation. In fact, I have had the honour of serving as the Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation, until the successful outcome of the High-Level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation in Nairobi in 2009.
I have a strong conviction that South-South cooperation has the real potential of tackling the development challenges of our time and triggering sustainable development in the developing world.
As I have underlined many times, I would also like to emphasize again that South-South cooperation does not replace North-South cooperation. They complement each other. South-South and Triangular cooperation are more relevant today than ever before, especially when you consider the economic successes of some key countries in the South as well as some of the successful innovative solutions that are being shared, replicated and scaled-up among nations of the global South.
Q: Have any new signals emerged for South-South cooperation from the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan?
Al-Nasser: I welcome the Busan Outcome Document adopted by ministers and high-level officials of developed and developing nations including emerging economies as well as civil society organizations. It is important that the document pledged to “establish a new, inclusive and representative global partnership for effective development co-operation”. We should always recognize that development aid becomes effective when it engages communities, civil society, the private sector and government, to collaborate and seek synergies based on national development priorities and framework.
It is encouraging that the Busan Forum agreed to "broaden support for South-South and triangular cooperation, helping to tailor these horizontal partnerships to a greater diversity of country contexts and needs." It is good that the international community agreed to make "fuller use of South-South and triangular cooperation, recognizing the success of these approaches to date and the synergies they offer".
Q: What role do you think the GA could possibly play in ensuring that the conference on a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East takes place this year as scheduled and that it brings forth positive results?
Al-Nasser: The General Assembly has identified nuclear disarmament as one of its top priorities since 1978, at its First Special Session on Disarmament. A good number of resolutions presented to the Assembly for endorsement include clear cut references to the importance of the goal to establish a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East in the context of promoting international peace and security.
This year, in addition to the adoption of its annual consensus resolution entitled "Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Region of the Middle East", the General Assembly adopted another resolution, entitled "The Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East", where specific reference has been made to the 2012 Conference on the establishment of a Zone Free from Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East and where the Conference has been strongly endorsed.
On various occasions, including through my statement before the First Committee of the General Assembly, I welcomed the appointment by the UN Secretary-General of a Facilitator from Finland, Mr. Jaakko Laajava. I have offered the support of the General Assembly as a whole to facilitate his task in convening of a successful conference this year, in line with the consensus outcome document of the 2010 Review Conference of States Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
To demonstrate the importance of this issue on my agenda, I dispatched a senior representative from my office to participate, as an observer, at the Forum convened in November 2011 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Relevant Experiences of Other Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones to the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East. I continue, both personally and through my office, to lend all possible support to formal and informal efforts and events dedicated to a timely convening of the 2012 Conference. These efforts will continue.
Q: The GA has been labouring hard for years for reform of the UN Security Council as much-needed re-calibration in response to geopolitical transformation. Do you see any prospects of such a reform by 2015, 70 years after the founding of the UN?
Al-Nasser: I believe reform of the Security Council lies at the heart of revitalizing decision-making on international peace and security by the United Nations. This is one of the four priority areas I have chosen for my Presidency. The first meeting of the 8th round of intergovernmental negotiations took place last November, chaired by Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin, in whose leadership I have full confidence. I believe these negotiations are sending a clear message to the Member States about the need for achieving this long-overdue reform. As President of the General Assembly, I stay committed to a solution that reflects the collective will of all Member States. There was a new dynamic during the negotiations so I intend to capitalize on that by hosting a retreat on Security Council Reform in the coming few weeks. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 30, 2012]
Picture: UNGA President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser | Credit: UN