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Germany

Sri Lanka Hedges on German Bid for Security Council

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer continued his five-country Asian tour in Sri Lanka, receiving a cautious response to Berlin's bid to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

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Lakshman Kadirgamar (left) wants to leave all options open.

After meeting on Sunday, Fischer's counterpart Lakshman Kadirgamar said that Colombo supported the United Nations reform drive for the sake of "restoring multilateralism."

The Sri Lanka foreign minister, however, declined to comment on which countries he favored seeing on an expanded Security Council.

"When it comes to the specifics of who is going to fill the seats we are not ready to take a position yet," he told reporters, while stressing that Germany was "an important country" on the world stage.

Joschka Fischer, on a whistlestop tour of Asia since early last week, has been meeting with leaders in India, China and Bangladesh to drum up support for Germany's proposals to expand the number of permanent members on the UN Security Council. There are currently five countries with veto power on the council, and Berlin wants to see that number grow to 10.

Fence-sitting in Asia

During earlier stops on the 10-day trip, the German foreign minister received similarly non-committal responses to his appeal to China and Bangladesh, who are thought to be hedging their bets while regional giants such as Japan and India are also in the running for a permanent seat.

In New Delhi, however, both Germany and India agreed to back each other.

For new countries to join the Security Council as permanent members, the support of two-thirds of the UN's more than 190 countries is required to overhaul the institution. After its vocal opposition to the Iraq war, Germany is banking on large support from countries who seek to limit the United States' unilateralism.

Peace negotiations

During talks on Sunday, Fischer and Kadirgamar also discussed Sri Lanka's faltering peace process amid moves by Norway to get the government and Tamil rebels back to the negotiation table.

The German minister praised government efforts to find a solution to what he called "a tragic conflict" while Kadirgamar offered a positive assessment of the chance of engaging in future peace talks. "I think the will to do so is there," he said.

Negotiations have remained deadlocked since the Norwegian-backed talks to end the separatist conflict broke up in April last year.

Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen is expected in Colombo next weekend to meet with Sri Lankan government leaders and Tamil Tiger rebels on reviving the quest for peace, special envoy Erik Solheim said Sunday.

Investment potential

Fischer, who is traveling with a business delegation and has made a point about increasing German trade to the region as a further aspect of stability, said Sri Lanka had "great potential" for investment and offered Colombo two million euros ($2.5 million) to fund the integration of Sri Lanka in a business information network for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

SAARC seeks to bring Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and now Sri Lanka closer together by promoting regional economic and social cooperation.

On Monday Fischer meets President Chandrika Kamaratunga before continuing his tour in the Indian cities of Madras and Bombay.

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