The Bush administration says it supports the addition of "two or so" new permanent members to the U.N. Security Council - one of them Japan - while adding two or three non-permanent members. It said a broader expansion could dilute the effectiveness of the council.
The statement by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns was the most detailed thus far on the Bush administration's vision for U.N. reform including the critical issue of Security Council expansion.
Mr. Burns said the United States will likely support the addition of, "two or so" new permanent members and two or three non-permanent ones, increasing the council from the current 15 members to 19 or 20.
Under the U.S. plan, none of the new members would have veto power, which would remain limited to the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France as it has been since the U.N.'s founding.
Mr. Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official would not be specific about what other country or countries the United States might also support for a permanent seat.
Japan, Germany, Brazil and India have been campaigning jointly for permanent seats and there are proposals to add several non-permanent seats as well.
Mr. Burns said the United States fears that a so-called "Big Bang" expansion to 25 or more seats might undermine the Security Council's effectiveness.
"We think that the more modest enlargement that we would recommend, that we will recommend in this debate, is sensible because we have to be concerned about effectiveness," he said. "Nobody should want to see the council expanded in such a way that becomes an ineffective body, a body that can't take decisions, a body that can't react to world crises. That has to be at the center of our thinking."
Mr. Burns said the United States will submit a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly setting out criteria for admission of new Security Council members.
These he said should include a country's population and economic output, the size of its military including its capability to contribute to U.N. peacekeeping operations, its commitment to democracy and human rights, and its financial support for the United Nations.
U.S. officials have long backed Japan's candidacy because of its status as the second-largest contributor to the U.N. system behind the United States.
Mr. Burns said the makeup of the Security Council should not be the exclusive focus of U.N. reform and the United States wants to see other issues tackled first.
These, he said, include management reforms at the scandal-ridden U.N. Secretariat, and changes in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights so that countries sanctioned for human rights violations such as Zimbabwe cannot sit in judgment of others.
The senior State Department official also urged the Senate to act favorably on the stalled nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, saying Mr. Bolton's presence is needed there as the reform debate intensifies.
He also stressed administration opposition to a Republican sponsored bill in Congress that would, among other things, require the United States to withhold half its U.N. dues if the world body failed to enact certain reforms.
Mr. Burns said the measure would infringe on the president's ability to conduct foreign policy and undermine the credibility of the United States in the U.N. system.