Dozens of U.N. diplomats are working overtime in a last-ditch effort to rescue a world summit on development and U.N. reform beginning September 14. The prospect of reaching any substantial agreement grows slimmer as the opening day of the summit nears.
U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping abruptly cancelled a news conference last Friday. He was to outline progress in negotiating a statement on the summit to be approved by 170 presidents and prime ministers when they gather to mark the world body's 60th anniversary.
The cancellation was just the latest of a series of indications that the negotiations are going badly, a week before the opening of the three-day summit.
A core group of member states' representatives Mr. Ping appointed last month, to find agreement on seven key issue areas, is working days, nights, holidays and weekends to meet the September 14 deadline. U.N. corridors are unusually busy with diplomats huddled over draft texts, while meetings of subcommittees of the core group are held simultaneously in conference rooms around the building.
One diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations, deputy Russian Ambassador Konstantin Dolgov, described the atmosphere with typical diplomatic understatement. As he emerged from a meeting on the sensitive issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, he said, "I am not entirely pessimistic".
But with only days to go, Ambassador Dolgov says no agreements have been reached.
"I understand discussions are continuing everywhere and in all the groups and I'm not aware of any breakthroughs, but there are some points on which there is more agreement than on others, but I'm aware of the fact that none of the issues is ready for an agreement," said Konstantin Dolgov.
Work on a summit declaration was thought to be progressing smoothly until mid-August. A 39-page document was in its third draft when Washington's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, submitted hundreds of proposed changes, along with seven U.S. position papers.
But Ambassador Bolton said he remains hopeful that the late-hour talks can succeed.
"There's a lot of work to do in the next two weeks, but I don't see it as an unattainable goal to negotiate the entire 39-page document," said John Bolton. "That's what we're trying to do right now."
Among the most contentious issues being negotiated is development. Early drafts of the summit declaration contain commitments to so-called Millennium Development Goals, one of which would commit wealthy countries to spending a percentage of their national income on development assistance.
Ambassador Bolton sent a letter to colleagues last week laying out his objection to what he called "global aid targets." He says the Bush administration remains committed to pledges made at the Millennium Summit in 2000. But he says those commitments are different from the Millennium Development Goals backed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"We said explicitly that President Bush has repeatedly endorsed the goals contained in the declaration of the millennium summit in 2000. Under Bush we have nearly doubled official developmental assistance," he said. "There is a lot of confusion about the phrase 'Millennium Development Goals.' I sent a two-page dear colleague letter to explain our position, and we're going to negotiate it out."
Secretary-General Annan, this week called it unfortunate that the United States had proposed so many amendments to the summit declaration. In an interview with British radio, Mr. Annan said the U.S. move had opened the floodgates to other amendments and changed the dynamics of the negotiations.
With only a week to go before the summit opens, negotiators say there is no agreement on any of the seven main issues up for discussion.
The status of the talks was summed up Tuesday by Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali. As he entered a negotiating session, he told reporters "We're stuck."