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African Leaders Reject Compromise on UN Security Council Expansion

African leaders at special summit Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, sent a strong message to the United Nations that they want veto-wielding permanent seats on its security council.

After a day of debate and deal-making, the African Union rejected a compromise by Brazil, Germany, Japan and India that would have given Africa two permanent seats without veto power on the U.N. security council.

Africa has long sought more representation on the world body.

Currently, the U.N. security council has 15 seats. Five are set aside for permanent members, the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain. The remaining 10 seats are reserved for other member-countries and rotate in two-year terms.

Brazil, Germany, Japan and India, countries that aspire to be permanent members of the security council, have sent delegates to the summit to urge African support for their proposal, which includes expanding the council to 25 members. That means adding 10 new members, six of them permanent seats without veto power: four for themselves and two for Africa.

The African Union's plan is more ambitious. It calls for 11 new members, and and would give veto power to the new permanent seats. Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are being proposed for the two permanent seats for Africa.

Ross Herbert is the senior Africa analyst for the South African Institute for International Policy. He says it's doubtful the often-fractious 53-nation African Union would ever give up its demand for permanent seats with veto power.

"The problem with the African plan is that they can't choose [among] their three main contenders, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. So that's partly why they wanted to have their compromise. [That] would be to two permanent members plus two other African members, which would leave whoever the odd-man-out of that trio would be, they would potentially be bought off with a rotating non-permanent seat," he said.

Still, some Western nations have resisted expanding the Security Council to include permanent seats for African countries, especially if those seats include veto power.

Mr. Herbert says at issue is the risk of having on the Security Council countries that may become unstable or that cannot contribute either funds or troops to UN missions on the Council.

"That's an argument that some people will make. Nigeria, if anything, is teetering on the brink and some day may end up collapsing. You put it on the Security Council and give it veto power, you kind of ensure eventually that when it does get into trouble, the U.N. will be unable to do anything about it."

For the Group of Four nations to have any hope of getting permanent seats on the security council, they will need the approval of two-thirds of the 191 countries that make up the U.N. General Assembly. To do that, they are going to need massive support from the African Union.