Former Foreign Minister Jan Kavan getting ready for UN post

Jan Kavan

The former Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has been receiving a lot of media attention recently, though mostly for less than positive reasons. His former senior aide at the Foreign Ministry, Karel Srba, is being investigated on charges of plotting to kill a Czech investigative journalist and corruption. Unprecedented, though it was, the scandal has been overshadowing the fact that Jan Kavan is the first Czech ever to assume the post of the President of the United Nations General Assembly. In this week's edition of Talking Point Pavla Horakova speaks to Mr Kavan himself about his plans in the new post.

For the first time in its history, the General Assembly elected its one-year President a whole three months ahead of the date when he is to take office. That gives the President-elect time to prepare thoroughly for his role. Before he takes over from the current President, Han Seung-soo from Korea, on the 10th of September, Mr Kavan is busy preparing for the demanding task.

"At the moment I'm preparing for that role which includes setting up my team, acquiring through consultation experience and knowledge from my predecessors, both from the Korean team, but also from the earlier Finnish team of Dr. Harri Holkeri, former Finnish Prime Minister. I went to New York and consulted dozens of important ambassadors and, of course, I discussed it both with the Secretary-General Kofi Annan and with his own secretariat because I believe the two secretariats should work very closely together. In terms of theoretical preparation we have prepared detailed documentation on the Czech priorities for our year, which does not mean we will not concentrate on other things as well but every presidency wants to leave its mark in a particular field."

The Czech presidency headed by Jan Kavan has come up with four priorities for their one year in office. Starting with international cooperation and development, Mr Kavan emphasised the importance of reducing world poverty, something he believes in some cases might provide fertile soil for international terrorism.

"The first one is international cooperation and development which really means a thorough consistent attempt to implement as much as possible from the Millennium Declaration, from the Monterrey Consensus and from the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development, and implement in particular those provisions which would lead to narrowing of the gap between the rich and poor countries. But I see this endeavour not only as needed for the important aim of targeting poverty and reducing extreme poverty but other reasons. And that's linked to our second priority, peace and security. Because I do strongly believe that although poverty on its own is not the only ingredient responsible for fertile soil for international terrorism, for example, however, if you combine poverty with, for example, unsolved political problems for many years, feelings of frustration, powerlessness etc., you have a very fertile mixture for international terrorism."

Although security is mainly under the remit of the United Nations Security Council, Mr Kavan says the General Assembly does have its own means by which it can help to prevent armed conflicts worldwide.

"In the prevention of conflicts I see our role. The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, himself has done a lot of work on the prevention of conflicts and we want to continue along those same lines. But as I said preventing the emergence of situations which could lead to armed conflicts and international terrorism. Which leads to the conclusion of the second priority, fight against international terrorism but not just by military means but by political means, financial means, diplomatic means, i.e. means which are again at the disposal of the General Assembly."

Of course one of the major areas of conflict at the present time is the Middle East. Mr Kavan says the UN definitely has a role to play in efforts to appease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I'm a great supporter of the idea of the Quartet, looking for example at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obviously, the greatest responsibility is in the hands of the United States but I do believe that the United States in cooperation with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations can create a situation where an international community from outside will try to find a solution which I don't think can be found by the two parties themselves."

As its next President, Jan Kavan wants to see the General Assembly reformed, something which he calls his third priority. The former Czech foreign minister says he intends to make his priorities clear when he speaks at the opening of the 57th session of the General Assembly on the 10th of September.

"The last two priorities are to do with the reform. The third is the reform of the General Assembly which is an evergreen. Many of my predecessors have tried it, but some did a fair amount of successful work. In particular, I have in mind Harri Holkeri. During his presidency the Finns put forward a number of ideas. Some were implemented but some remained as proposals, suggestions, ideas. We want to pick up on those and try to implement them. So what the jargon calls the revitalisation of the General Assembly is definitely one of our priorities. That means looking at the number of committees, seeing which ones are really redundant, so there will be less bureaucracy, more efficiency, more transparency and better communication. In terms of communication I do see a need and usefulness in regular meetings between representatives of the Security Council, General Assembly, ECOSOC and the Secretary-General and his secretariat. And again, my consultations up to now proved that there is a lot of political will to use such mechanisms to make the General Assembly primarily more efficient but also democratic and transparent."

The General Assembly is not the only UN body which in Mr Kavan's opinion could do with reform.

"The last, of course, is the evergreen, which I have no illusion we can change anything - that's the reform of the Security Council. Here, unlike on the reform of the General Assembly I have no illusions we can qualitatively change anything. That's really on the Security Council. However, the consultations show there is a lot of political will to clarify the issues, make it more clear, where are the differences, what are the proposals, focus the issues on concrete proposals and maybe agree on the first steps. For example, I'm told that it could be perceived as success if the open working committees which have been looking at it for nine years - my presidency will in fact mark the 10th year and a lot of people believe this is a symbolic time to make a breakthrough - I'm not a great believer in symbols, but if this means that a lot of people will cooperate during the 10th year much more than they cooperated during the 9th year, I would welcome that. I'm for example told that if we can reach a consensus throughout the General Assembly that there is a need to increase the number of both permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council - even that would be an important success. If the Czech presidency can contribute to the clarification of these issues, I think that would be important. But I have no illusions that on this evergreen we could make a qualitative breakthrough, which I hope we could - if we are successful - make on the revitalisation of the General Assembly."

One of the most frequently discussed topics when it comes to the United Nations is the United States' debt to the organisation. How does Jan Kavan, the President-elect of the UN General Assembly think the issue could be addressed?

"I think a lot has been done already on the US debt. The debt is far smaller than it was a few years ago. I think the discussions on the US debt are going in the right direction. What I find much more important is to play a role of a conciliator between the UN and the US on a number of issues where there are so far qualitative differences of opinion: The International Criminal Court, the Optional Protocol on Torture, Optional Protocol on Children, basically comprehensive international covenants, which the US has a problem of applying to US citizens because it goes against the whole tradition of US government and the US way of doing things. If we can create an atmosphere where a meaningful compromise could be found and if the Czech presidency could contribute to it, that in itself would be a great success."