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Annan to Propose Overhaul of U.N.

The secretary-general envisions expanding the Security Council as part of reforms meant to revive the legitimacy of the world body.

September 23, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Seeking to save the United Nations from irrelevance, Secretary-General Kofi Annan will launch plans for "radical reforms" of the world body at the annual opening debate of the General Assembly today.

Since the United States sidestepped the U.N. to invade Iraq this year, the institution has been looking for a way to recover its global standing. Now, Annan says, the U.N. must change markedly to revive its legitimacy.

Beginning with rethinking its mission in Iraq, Annan will ask for an overhaul of the organization's role in the world. His suggestions include an expansion of the Security Council and a review of the methods it uses to handle new challenges brought by preemptive action, weapons proliferation and the long-standing problems of poverty and disease.

Annan will call for the appointment of a panel of international experts to consider the most pressing questions facing the U.N. as an institution and ask that it deliver its recommendations by this time next year.

"We have come to a fork in the road. This may be a moment, no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded," reads an advance copy of his speech.

Annan's remarks will open the annual debate, in which leaders from 191 countries will participate. Few are expected to shake the cavernous chamber the way President Bush did a year ago when he told the Security Council to confront Iraq or stand aside.

This year, Annan and Bush are both shaken by the results of that challenge.

When the U.N. refused to endorse going to war in Iraq, it was criticized by the U.S. for a lack of resolve, and when it later helped with humanitarian aid, it was attacked by Iraqi militants as collaborating with the U.S.-led occupiers. Annan now knows that he must convince the world that the U.N. is a vital body to go through, not around.

Bush, meanwhile, was able to quickly oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but with U.S. casualties and reconstruction costs quickly mounting, he will return to the U.N. today to appeal for major international involvement in rebuilding. As it did last year, France is balking -- calling for an immediate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, a move the U.S. says would be premature.

In their speeches, both Bush and Annan will say the U.N. is in danger of becoming irrelevant as a player on the global security stage. But although they have arrived at a similar conclusion, the men remain a world apart.

Annan will ask that the international panel of experts help determine how nations should respond to the threats of terrorism, genocide and weapons of mass destruction -- together or unilaterally. He will denounce Bush's doctrine of preemptive action, saying it is prone to misuse.

"This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years," the text of Annan's speech says. "My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents" for widespread use of force without laws or justification.

But Annan adds that the U.N. must also confront the concerns that drive states to act alone and show that they can be effectively addressed collectively through the United Nations.

Earlier in his term, the soft-spoken but intense Ghanaian was daring in guiding the global agenda. In 1999, Annan introduced the groundbreaking idea that human rights could be more sacred than national borders, and that genocide or ethnic cleansing should demand the intervention of the international community.

But on Iraq, the biggest test of his leadership and the U.N.'s tendentious relationship with the U.S., he has been quiet for much of the past year.

Seeking to protect the U.N. from looking like a collaborator in a war it didn't support, he refused to engage with the occupying powers in postwar planning. That detachment ultimately undermined the U.N., some say, and allowed the U.S. to dictate the U.N.'s role -- which made it look like even more of an accomplice.

Then came the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Iraq a month ago, which killed more than 20 people. It shook Annan profoundly, those close to him say, and made him reevaluate how -- and whether -- the U.N. should lend its legitimacy and lives to the occupation effort in Iraq.

He lost one of his closest friends and most talented colleagues, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in the attack. And the United Nations, Annan said at a memorial service this week, "lost its innocence."

"I think the bombing changed his mind. It made him recognize that the U.N. is in severe crisis. The kind of thing he's saying now, he's never said before," a U.N. official who was in Iraq said. "And at the heart of the problem is that too many people are seeing the U.N. as an extension of the U.S."

On Monday, violence struck again, with a suicide bomber detonating a car bomb near the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing an Iraqi guard and himself and injuring about a dozen other people.

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