Obama, UN chief discuss reform while US rededicates itself to the world organization

by Barry SchweidThe Chicago Tribune
November 20th, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President-elect Barack Obama is urging the United Nations chief to embark on "far-reaching reform" of the world organization to help it address pressing global issues.


At the same time, in a telephone conversation Wednesday, Obama told Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that the United States "should rededicate itself to the organization and to its mission," said Brook Anderson, chief national security spokeswoman for the Obama transition team.

Last month, Ban called for greater cooperation from the United States.

Ban received the call from Obama just after the U.N. chief returned from a trip to Switzerland.  

"They discussed how to address  current crises, as well as regional and global issues, and how to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and the U.N.," spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.

Obama spoke with Ban and four foreign leaders to express his appreciation for their congratulatory messages after his election victory, the president-elect's transition office said.

Meanwhile, a wide array of former top U.S. officials urged Obama on Wednesday to make the U.N. a close partner in confronting global threats and environmental challenges.

Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher and former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown and William Perry were among the signers of the statement issued by the U.N. Foundation and the Partnership for a Secure America, a bipartisan foreign-policy advocacy group.

"The next president has a unique opportunity to revitalize the U.S.-U.N. relationship as a symbol of America's commitment to constructive international cooperation," the statement said.

Specific recommendations to the incoming Obama administration included leading U.N. efforts to slow the spread of nuclear weapons and technology, and getting the U.N. more involved in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Bush administration, particularly in the war in Iraq, was often accused of ignoring or paying little attention to the U.N.

More than three dozen former officials urged Obama to improve relations with the U.N. and to make an early statement expressing U.S. commitment to international cooperation through the U.N. They included former national security advisers Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft and former U.N. ambassadors Albright, John Danforth, Donald McHenry and Edward Perkins.

Anderson said, "We haven't seen this letter yet but look forward to receiving it."

During his presidential campaign, Obama said in a statement to the U.N. Association of the U.S. and the Better World Campaign that "no country has a greater stake in a strong United Nations than the United States."

Obama said the U.S. benefits from a global institution designed to advance the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes and humanitarian efforts.

But there was also criticism in his statement.

Obama said "broken politics" at the U.N. leave the world body short of its potential and also of the principles in the U.N. charter.

"All too often," he wrote, "U.N. member states use U.N. processes as means to avoid action rather than a means to solve problems."

And, Obama said, U.N. member states acted far too slowly and indecisively to end genocide in the Darfur area of Sudan.