United Nations member states met informally on Thursday to begin talks on key issues of reforming the body's powerful Security Council. Many countries want to see the 15-member council expanded to include broader regional representation and additional permanent members.
The subject of Security Council reform and expansion is not new. It has been discussed along these corridors for more than 15 years. But on Thursday, member states finally met to get down to business.
Diplomats say the private meeting was devoted mostly to procedural issues and that substantive negotiations will begin early next month.
At issue is the makeup of the Security Council's membership, who gets veto power, regional representation, how big an enlarged council would be and what would be its working methods, and the relationship between the Security Council and the 192-member General Assembly.
In the past, regional rivalries and national interests have stalled the process and it remains to be seen whether that will happen again.
Pakistan's Ambassador, Husain Haroon, is optimistic, saying there has been a great deal of divisiveness in the past, but that views are starting to converge.
"I think the negotiations, despite the worst pundit beliefs, I think will go well," said Haroon. "And I think people are going to listen to each other. And I think that if we work in that spirit of cooperation, we'll have a much better United Nations."
Strong regional powers Germany, Japan, India and Brazil have long-sought permanent seats on an expanded 25-member Security Council, but without immediate veto rights. African Union countries are also seeking to permanent seats council.
A separate proposal put forward by a group of mid-ranking countries seeks an additional 10 non-permanent seats on the council, doubling the current number.
The United States has said it would support Japan and Germany joining the council as permanent members. In the text of her statement to the closed-door meeting, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States believes that the long-term viability and legitimacy of the Security Council depends on its reflecting the world of the 21st century.
The council's balance of power still largely reflects the state of the world following World War II, with Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States holding permanent veto-wielding seats. Ten other countries are elected to two-year terms.
Substantive negotiations on the issues of membership, veto power and regional representation will start on March 4.