UNITED NATIONS – With time running out before next week's U.N. (search) summit, the United States offered to compromise Tuesday on three key issues — an unexpected attempt to inject new life into difficult and divisive negotiations on a document for world leaders to adopt.
Ambassador John Bolton (search) presented the three proposed amendments on development — the most important subject to the majority of the 191 U.N. member states — at the start of a meeting of 32 countries trying to reach agreement on a text. The so-called "core group" had before it a new 45-page draft with more than 250 proposed changes.
Whether the concessions lead to a breakthrough remains to be seen because there are many other unresolved issues on human rights, terrorism, a new Peacebuilding Commission (search) and new responsibility for governments to protect civilians facing genocide — to name a few. But the U.S. action gave new hope to some negotiators.
"It really is a good step," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, whose country heads the 25-member European Union, which has been at odds with the United States on many issues in the final draft. "I think it will be terribly helpful."
Bolton said the United States offered the compromise proposals "in the spirit of trying to keep this moving and showing flexibility."
He said he was "very pleased at the reaction" from a number of Third World countries though "I don't pretend this is going to satisfy everybody."
"We remain optimistic. If we hadn't been optimistic we wouldn't have put these three compromise proposals forward," Bolton said.
Algeria, South Africa and Pakistan reacted cautiously.
"It's a very interesting move," said Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who earlier Tuesday had warned that negotiations were "really stuck."
He said the Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries, will meet Wednesday morning to look at the U.S. proposals, ahead of a meeting of the "core group" later Wednesday that will focus solely on development issues.
Developing countries say their top priority at the summit is action to improve the lives of their citizens and meet U.N. Millennium Development Goals. Those goals include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.
Without agreement on key development issues, the Group of 77 is unlikely to go along with the rest of the proposals in the final document to overhaul the United Nations.
The United States has been widely criticized for seeking to eliminate references to the Millennium Development Goals. It has argued that the goals were a follow-up to the Millennium Declaration adopted by world leaders at the last U.N. summit in September 2000 — but were not adopted by the leaders.
But Washington backed down Tuesday, saying it is ready to accept the use of the phrase throughout the text, provided that it can be appropriately defined.
The United States also came under attack for seeking to delete a call for rich nations to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national product on development aid. While President Bush has almost doubled international assistance, the United States spent just 0.16 percent of GNP on development aid in 2004, according to a recent U.N. report.
Bolton said that while the United States does not accept the 0.7 percent target, it recognizes that other countries do and now accepts the importance of including a reference in the final document.
The proposed amendment would note "the establishment of timetables by many developed countries to achieve the various targets to which they are committed, including of 0.7 percent of GNP" for development assistance by 2015.
The Bush administration had also been criticized for proposing to eliminate a reference in the text to the Kyoto accord to combat climate change, which the United States opposes.
In a third compromise, Bolton said the United States is now willing to allow language on climate change that emphasizes the need for all countries to meet the commitments they have undertaken, "including, for many of us, the Kyoto Protocol."