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UN-US Symposium: Working Together to Solve Critical Global Problems

New York, USA - A UN-US Symposium convened from April 27-28, 2003, at the New Yorker Hotel and the United Nations Headquarters with the theme, Working Together to Solve Critical Global Problems.

The fourth in a series under the sponsorship of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP), provided a unique opportunity to examine issues of fundamental import regarding the future of the United Nations, the role and responsibilities of the United States in the world organization, and the roles of the United States and the United Nations in addressing contemporary crises.

In the course of two days, seventy-two UN delegates attended sessions, and engaged twenty three members of the US Congress and their legislative assistants in face to face discussion and information sharing.

The Symposium began Sunday evening with a reception on the 39th floor of the historic mid-town New Yorker Hotel. The spectacular views of the Hudson River, Empire State Building and lower Manhattan, down to the Statue of Liberty, and the void created by the September 11th collapse of the World Trade Towers, both inspired and reminded us all, of the heart of the work at hand and the consequences of division, disregard and resentment.

H.E. Mr. Ousmane Moutari, Permanent Representative of Niger and one of the active United Nations Host Committee members welcomed the US delegates at the opening dinner in the Crystal Ballroom. Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, Secretary General of IIFWP also took the opportunity to outline the spirit of the Symposium by introducing the core principles underlying its purpose and structure. "We need to dissolve barriers to cooperation by expanding our understanding of one another’s work and missions and work to find ways to utilize our different strengths to the benefit of the global community."

Having begun the evening with the "matching" of UN and US guests through a business card exchange, participants parted already engaged in the cultivation of UN-US relations.

At the UN

The Symposium began with a breakfast at the United Nations Headquarters building the next day. Representatives of over 40 nations gathered with the US delegates, and the significance of members and staff of the US Congress coming to UN Headquarters for dialogue with UN representatives of the Member States and the Secretariat--even with UN-US relations still being colored by the tensions that came with the Iraq war--was not lost on those present. This substantial interest of the US delegates did much to send positive signals to the international diplomatic community of the UN at this time.

The Opening Breakfast, moderated by Ms. Karen Judd Smith, Director of the IIFWP Office of UN Relations, helped set the tone for the day. First, Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of IIFWP, presented three points for the participants to consider as substantial contributions to the current state of affairs through this Symposium:

1. Overcoming barriers -- whether national, racial, religious, or cultural, so as to actively bridge differences rather than remain unnaturally separated;

2. Actively seeking a vantage point in discussions and dialogue that would allow perspectives to grow beyond national self-interest and so discover together new levels of mutual understanding and benefit, perspectives that provide the foundation for healthy dialogue and, ultimately, good governance; and

3. Increasing awareness of the need for more interreligious dialogue, respect and cooperation, both because religion is so essential (overtly or otherwise), to the human experience and because religions and their institutions are so much a part of the dynamics of today’s peace and security. Dr. Kwak closed noting that these three points are, "the trend of history, (and) not merely a result of human desire (so) our vision of global governance, epitomized in the United Nations, must adjust to this trend."

A representative of the UN noted that in spite of its own shortcomings and frustrations, the UN is still a workable organization and the only legitimate institution in the world to which all nations have subscribed and in which we all have a stake, while acknowledging that the US participation in the UN continues to be fundamental – not only to the UN itself but also to America’s global leadership.

To close the breakfast, Hon. Danny K. Davis, US Congressman (D-IL), underscored that problems such as global terrorism would naturally be erased if all nations would work together to create, "a world which values peace, freedom, diversity, equality and democracy," in which, therefore, the "weed" of terrorism cannot grow.

Following breakfast the US delegates went on a walking tour of UN Headquarters allowing them to see the key places the UN delegates work -- the General Assembly, Security Council, ECOSOC, Trusteeship Council Chambers and conference rooms.

The UN Charter

Moderated by H.E. Miss June Clarke, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the UN, the next session featured an excellent presentation on the UN Charter by a member of the UN Secretariat. To highlight the historical UN-US connection, the speaker began his presentation by acknowledging the fact that the UN Charter was actually drafted by people who had the Second World War in fresh memory, especially by Americans who were in the lead. He then referred to the mandates of the UN Charter as saving the future generations from the scourge of war, addressing the question of human rights, achieving international justice, and promoting social progress and freedom. He also discussed about the Charter’s purposes (article 1) and responsibilities (article 2), international law and peaceful settlement of disputes (articles 13, 92, 96), the Security Council in relationship to the permitted use of force (articles 39, 42, 51), and the obligation of all member states to carry out the decisions of the Security Council (articles 48, 49). The presentation concluded by encouraging the United States, the only superpower, to set a standard of abiding by the Charter and other international treaties. This led to a lively interaction of questions and answers, which was highly valued by the US delegates.

The next segment of the program was the Roundtable Discussion in four small groups, organized by H.E. Mr. Hamid Mohammed, Permanent Observer for the Caribbean Community to the UN. Each of the four Roundtables mingled representatives from both the UN and US sides to explore how they can work together to address global concerns. While the following points among others were reported by rapporteurs as outcomes of the Roundtable Discussion, a key value of this session lay in the simple fact that UN and US delegates sat together and shared information, experiences, perspectives, hopes, concerns and ideas:

* The polls still show that Americans are supportive of the United Nations in spite of the fact that some local constituents might be vocally negative toward the UN. So, members of the Congress perhaps need to organize those supportive people.

* The inability of the Security Council to retain a unified front regarding Iraq over the past 13 years has led both the UN and the US to begin to reflect on ways in which both might have done better.

* Everybody agrees that US leadership is important. So, perhaps the US needs to work more with the UN.

A Working Lunch

Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) was the luncheon speaker hosted by H.E. Dr. Abdul Mejid Hussein, Permanent Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the UN. A believer of dialogue, Congressman Weldon first talked about the need for the United States to be more sensitive to viewpoints of other nations. To show how great the power of dialogue is, he mentioned two things which he had successfully initiated as a member of Congress: 1) that a proposal entitled, "A New Time, a New Beginning," on the future relation of the US and Russia in 11 key areas such as economy, technology, health care, and environmental cooperation, which was made through a dialogue between members of the US Congress and Russian Duma, had a tremendous impact on President Bush and President Putin at their first summit; and 2) that the open group discussion between 13 members of US Congress and 400 Chinese military leaders, following Congressman Weldon’s own formal speech, at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army in May 2002, helped to open the minds and hearts of the Chinese.

He also shared about his commitment to the idea of challenging every new member of Congress to take on one nation in the world and become the expert on that nation, and to continue dialogue between members of Congress and members of the UN community. This session was important because it allowed the 60 plus UN participants to see that there are members of the US Congress acting to improve US awareness of other nations in very practical and meaningful ways.

The final session, moderated by H.E. Dr. Isaac C. Lamba, Permanent Representative of Malawi to the UN, was noted by many US participants as highly enlightening with respect to how other nations at the UN view the US. H.E. Dr. Kishore Mahbubani, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN, was the featured speaker on, "The Future of UN-US Relations." Ambassador Mahbubani first identified the "acute" structural problem of the UN-US as the fact that the UN, an organization based on the principle of sovereign equality of nations, has tried to create common rules for all nations and then to apply their common rules to the most powerful nations, the largest and the smallest nations alike. Acknowledging the "burst of hope" that came with the end of the Cold War and that the UN would be able to function much better, the Ambassador noted this fundamental problem remained and has never been well addressed.

Noting that the recent crisis on Iraq underscored the danger of a head-on collision between the UN and the US, with the growing sense of the world as a global village, the function of the UN remains indispensable. In this light, he urged the US to find ways to work better with the UN for, in the end, the US is still so essential to its success. H.E. Mahbubani, therefore, encouraged "both sides (to) try to achieve some kind of compromise" as a way of working together.

H.E. Mahbubani’s fine presentation and informal remarks stimulated many questions, one of which was, "Are there converging interests between the UN and the US?" His answer was in the affirmative, saying that not only the UN, but also the US as the world economic power, is very much interested in global stability, without which the US economy itself would be at stake.

To close the very full day, Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, IIFWP Secretary General, thanked one and all for their contributions. Having witnessed the scope and energy of exchanges and the expansion of understanding and friendship, Dr. Walsh indicated the willingness of IIFWP to continue to support this initiative and to further expand this dialogue whenever possible.

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