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Germany

Germany Takes Over Security Council Presidency

As president of the UN Security Council this month, Germany will set the agenda for meetings that could decide if war breaks out against Iraq. The first is set for Wednesday.

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A place at the roundtable: Germany takes over presidency of the UN Security Council

On Saturday, Germany officially took over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council for one month in New York. But the work of Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, doesn't really begin in earnest until Monday, when the UN's highest decision-making body sets its agenda for February.

From its first meeting this Wednesday, the month is certain to present an array of difficult decisions for the Security Council's members. On Feb. 5, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will present an intelligence report that Washington says contains information about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while at the same time establishing links between Baghdad and international terrorist groups. Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohammed al-Duri, has also made a request to speak before the Council. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is scheduled to facilitate.

But Wednesday is an exception. Normally, the job of overseeing Security Council meetings in February will be left up to Germany's representative on the Security Council, Gunter Pleuger. But already, Pleuger has been forced to yield some of his agenda-setting authority to the United States, which has sought to control the agenda on Feb. 5. But Pleuger has downplayed any significance that attempt may have.

"No agenda had been set for Feb. 5," said Pleuger. "The Americans also told us earlier it was their desire to hold this type of meeting on that day. We consulted with the other members and the whole thing proceeded entirely as usual."

A limited role

Germany joined the Security Council on Jan. 1 as a non-permanent member for two years. As a non-permanent member, Germany has voting rights, but no veto power, even as the rotating president of the Council. The role is largely ceremonial and is thus limited almost entirely to organizational and management duties, and decision-making freedom is often only as big as the importance of the country holding the presidency.

That's a lesson Colombia's UN ambassador had to learn as a recent Security Council president. After the Council voted against releasing portions of the Iraq weapons dossier, Washington secured a copy and then only gave a fraction of the document to the members of the council that don't share veto privileges. A further example of Germany's limited power on the Council is that Foreign Minister Fischer must travel to New York in order to meet with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix.

"You realize, of course, that Foreign Minister Fischer will be one of eight or nine foreign ministers who will come to this meeting, so I'm assuming this is going to be an important one," Pleuger said. "It's going to be the first meeting of the Security Council under the German presidency. Fischer himself will lead the meeting and what the result will be, we can only gauge on Wednesday evening."

Finding unity

In an interview, Pleuger also played down the importance of his role and that of Germany in the Security Council on the subject of Iraq. His main role in the position during February will be countless telephone calls, talks and lunches aimed at finding consensus between the 14 Security Council members on issues pertaining to world peace.

"This month isn't important because we have the chair, but rather because this month important political questions will be dealt with, and it's possible that difficult decisions will have to be made," Pleuger said. "We are seeking to lead the Security Council on the level expected of us -- we want to set the agenda in a way so that negotiations lead to as much unity on the Security Council as possible."

It's a lofty goal, but other members of the Security Council think Germany can pull it off.

"The president has to make sure the council works smoothly and I have no doubt that this will be the case of Germany," said Stefan Tafrov, Bulgaria's UN ambassador.

A second Iraq report

Despite the heavy duty lineup of cabinet ministers this Wednesday, the most important appointment for the Security Council this month will likely be Feb. 14 -- the day the second report from Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed elBaradei is to be delivered to the Security Council.

However, this has little significance for Germany's leadership of the Security Council considering that a decision over whether inspectors should be given more time or not will likely be determined by Washington and not Berlin.

It's also unlikely that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government will set the next date for any decision on Iraq. Instead, the German presidency will likely focus on the other trouble spots in the world -- from the Ivory Coast to Palestine -- that will determine the day-to-day business of the Security Council until Guinea takes over the role on March 1.

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  • Date 03.02.2003
  • Author Rainer Sütfeld
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3EKa
  • Date 03.02.2003
  • Author Rainer Sütfeld
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3EKa