The push by the Palestinians for upgraded status at the United Nations is likely to succeed, the president of the U.N. General Assembly said on Friday, while warning the United States against cutting U.N. funding over the issue.
In his first major interview since winning a divisive campaign for the largely ceremonial U.N. post in June, former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic also said he was seeking to improve coordination between the world body and the Group of 20 bloc of key developed and developing nations.
Having failed last year to secure full U.N. membership due to U.S. opposition, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last month he would ask the 193-nation General Assembly to approve a less-ambitious promotion of the Palestinian Authority’s observer status to “non-member state,” like the Vatican. It is currently considered an “entity.”
Jeremic said Abbas is consulting with U.N. member states and is expected to call for a meeting on the Palestinian issue as early as next month, after the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election.
“Most people expect that it is going to be the second half of November,” the 37-year-old former Serbian foreign minister told Reuters.
“If they decide to go for it after these consultations, which is what President Abbas announced in his speech in September, most people expect that this is going to pass,” Jeremic added.
The United States and Israel have warned the Palestinians against seeking a status upgrade, saying it would be a setback for the peace process and suggesting that it could have financial implications for the Palestinian Authority.
Some U.N diplomats say that the Palestinians have not made a final decision to go for the upgrade and are under intense pressure from Washington and European nations to call it off.
U.N. diplomats and officials say they are also worried about a possible reduction of U.N. funding from the United States, which supplies 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget.
Jeremic said he does not want to lecture the United States, but voiced concern about a possible American suspension of U.N. funding due to the Palestinian issue. Such a suspension, he said, would have “dire financial implications” for the United Nations.
“I don’t think this would be in the interests of the United States to cut the financial aid, but I am not in a position to say to the United States what is it they should do,” he said. “They know what is best for them, and that’s what they are going to do.”
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The U.S. Congress froze some $200 million in financial aid to the Palestinians after they took their statehood campaign to the United Nations last year. Western officials say further aid reductions by the United States are likely, along with a possible freezing of U.N. funding.
The United States cut funding to the U.N. education and science agency, UNESCO, last year after it admitted the Palestinians as a full member.
A 1990s U.S. law prohibits American funding to U.N. organizations that grant full membership to any group that does not have “internationally recognized attributes” of statehood.
The Palestinians are not seeking U.N. membership. But an upgrade of their observer status could nevertheless be uncomfortable for Israel.
Being registered as a state rather than an entity would mean the Palestinians could join bodies such as the International Criminal Court and file complaints against Israel for its continued occupation.
The Palestinians need a simple majority in the General Assembly for the status upgrade, and predict that between 150 and 170 nations out of the 193 U.N. member states will vote in favor.
Handling the Palestinian debate will likely be the first major U.N. test for Jeremic, the youngest General Assembly president in the history of the United Nations. But he also intends to dedicate much of his time to finding a way to improve cooperation between the G20 and the United Nations.
Jeremic said this could make the assembly more relevant and give some legitimacy to the G20, an informal group that smaller countries often criticize for its lack of transparency.
He said his plan was to “create a consultation mechanism between the G20 and the rest of the world.” Jeremic will discuss it with Russia, which chairs the G20 next year, and plans to hold a high-level meeting on U.N.-G20 cooperation in early 2013.
Previous attempts to boost ties between the G20 and United Nations have failed. Jeremic’s predecessor in 2008-2009, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, made an attempt to do the same but made little headway. D’Escoto, a left-wing former foreign minister, was a fierce critic of the United States, Israel and the G20, and envoys said that alienated some delegations.
Jeremic made clear he would take a different approach and would be seeking consensus. “This must not be an antagonistic exercise,” he said. “This is not about bashing.”
A number of U.N. diplomats have mentioned Jeremic as a potential candidate to succeed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when his term ends in December 2016. The next U.N. chief is expected to come from Eastern Europe in keeping with a tradition of rotation among the six regional groups of the United Nations.
Jeremic, who became a familiar face in New York at regular U.N. meetings on Serbia’s former province of Kosovo, declined to comment on his future plans apart from returning to Serbia, where he remains a member of parliament. But he did not rule out the idea of running for the top U.N. post.