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61st UN General Assembly: Sudan, Iran, Lebanon and Burma Are Top US Priorities

This week the new session of the United Nations General Assembly opens in New York. Kristen Silverberg, UN Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, says she thinks several issues will top this year’s UN agenda – promoting democracy and economic development in post-war Lebanon, preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state, and deploying a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur to bring an end to the violence there.

Regarding U.S. criticism of the lack of substantial progress on UN reform, which was designated last year’s highest priority in the General Assembly, Secretary Silverberg says the U.S. government still believes the United Nations has an important role to play – especially in combating poverty, fighting disease, and promoting human rights and democracy. So, the UN needs to confront some underlying organizational problems.

Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Secretary Silverberg says these problems include ethical failures (such as the oil-for-food scandal), the widespread perception that resources are not used effectively, and “spoiler states” that use the United Nations for their own purposes. She says she hopes that in the next session, particularly with a new incoming Secretary-General, there will be greater progress in these areas.

The United States has been “disappointed” with the new Human Rights Council, Secretary Silverberg says. And she thinks the Council has had an “unhealthy and unconstructive obsession with Israel” and has not been able to take on some of the “grave and urgent cases” around the world. Secretary Silverberg says the U.S. decision last year not to take a seat on the Council was the right decision. But, she adds, the United States is as yet “undecided” about what to do this coming year. She says that Burma is a “great example” of a human rights abuser and the “terrible conditions” there are giving rise to regional instability and therefore need to be on the Security Council agenda.

Regarding the crisis in Darfur, Kristen Silverberg says U.N. peacekeeping forces are urgently needed on the ground. In addition, the United Nations is assisting with humanitarian relief programs and trying to assure the deployment of a larger UN mission that would cover all of Sudan. She suggests that the mission might deploy – even without the consent of the government in Khartoum.

If Iran agrees to suspend its uranium enrichment program and return to the table, Ambassador Silverberg says, the United States will not seek additional sanctions in the UN Security Council. But she is skeptical that Tehran will indeed agree to allow inspectors to verify that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Despite progress on an agreement to deploy 15,000 UN troops along Lebanon’s southern border to supplement a corresponding number of Lebanese government forces, Ambassador Silverberg says, it is not yet clear how Lebanon will be able to deal with Hezbollah, which the United States deems a terrorist group, or how it will secure its borders to prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

Although the United States has not endorsed any candidate to replace Kofi Annan as Secretary-General at the end of the year, she says, Washington favors someone who is committed to continuing the UN reform effort, to good management, and to democratic values and the promotion of human rights.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.