By Arul Louis
United Nations, Sep 17 (IANS) US President Donald Trump who had earlier derided the UN as a good-time club for chatting, will make his debut here on Monday by convening a summit to back Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s efforts to reform the global organisation.
In an unusual move, Trump made the signing of a 10-point political declaration supporting Guterres’s efforts and endorsing his own perspective.
US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley said that “120 countries have signed on and will be in attendance. That’s a miraculous number”.
India is one of them and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will be at the meeting, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin confirmed on Saturday.
Describing the initiative, Haley said: “We’ve got a massive reform package being led by the Secretary General that really streamlines not just the processes, but also the budget as it goes forward, and makes the UN much more effective.”
In response, Akbaruddin said: “But we feel that reforms need to be much broad-based… You cannot have reform of only the Secretariat. You cannot side step issues relating to governance of UN bodies.”
The big issue of governance for India is the composition of the Security Council where New Delhi wants a permanent seat.
While India supports all reform efforts, Akbaruddin said: “For us reform is broad-based, all encompassing, and we look to engage with all colleagues and friends from other countries on this.”
Trump’s first visit as President to the UN marks a turnaround from his snub last December when he called it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”.
“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” he had said then.
A major plank of Guterres’s campaign for Secretary-General last year was reforming the UN, and although he and Trump differ vehemently on many issues like climate change and refugees, reform is a point they agree on.
The other side of the reform coin is trimming the budget.
The US is the single largest contributor to the to UN, sending in 25 per cent of the general budget and 28 per cent of the peacekeeping outlay, and Trump wants to cut the American contributions as part of his drive to slash Washington’s budget.
Haley in January warned that the US would do away with “anything that is not working” and promising austerity, echoing Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
The other related focus of Washington is on peacekeeping operations and Vice President Mike Pence will be attending the high-level meeting on it, Haley said.
In June, the General Assembly cut 7.25 per cent of the peacekeeping budget for next year.
India is historically the largest troop-contributor to UN operations having sent more than 60,000 troops, of whom over 7,000 are currently serving.
Asked about the US peacekeeping reform suggestions and the push for budget cuts, Akbaruddin said troop numbers were not the only factor India was concerned about and finding political solution, reforms and training mattered.
“We will continue interacting with the US on this.”
India and the US were already working together in training African peacekeepers, he added.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])
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