Global North must start listening to messages from Global South, former Slovenian president Danilo Turk tells Arab News at UNGA

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Updated 26 September 2023

Global North must start listening to messages from Global South, former Slovenian president Danilo Turk tells Arab News at UNGA

  • West and Russia’s diplomatic stalemate over Ukraine is a major obstacle to progress, says Turk
  • The Club de Madrid president lauds Saudi Arabia’s awareness of “its growing global responsibility”

NEW YORK CITY: As the world grapples with challenges ranging from sustainable development to climate change and conflicts, the global conversation has been increasingly dominated by the evolving landscape of multilateralism, the role of emerging powers, and the imperative for cooperation on such matters as migration and human rights.

On the margins of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia and current president of Club de Madrid, an organization comprising former heads of state or government from across the globe, shared his insights with Arab News on some of the burning issues of the day.  

The UN is an old home for Turk, who was his country’s first UN ambassador, and this latest visit is in the capacity of president of Club de Madrid.

This organization, representing 126 former leaders from 73 countries, maintains deep-rooted connections with the UN, with many of its members serving as special envoys of the UN secretary-general.

Heads of state or government descended on the UN headquarters in New York City. (AFP)

According to Turk, the UN is in a state of transformation, growing larger and more diverse, involving not only member states but an array of global actors. He said a visit to the UN today reveals a complex world coming together, seeking solutions to global challenges.

One of the key priorities that Turk and Club de Madrid brings to the UNGA is a spotlight on Sustainable Development Goals, with a special emphasis on social development.

“Sustainable Development Goals are not only about the environment, if I may put it so crudely. It’s about the whole transformation of societies, new social-development models. And we have got to start discussing this very seriously,” he said.

A robust SDG political declaration adopted last week by member states emphasized the need to intensify efforts toward the Summit for the Future next year and the World Social Summit in 2025.

These gatherings, conceptualized and promoted by Club de Madrid, of which UN chief Antonio Guterres is a member, serve as vital platforms to solidify strategies and approaches to development models, “measuring social development in ways which are more comprehensive, giving appropriate space for women to play a full role in the social development process and making other priorities more clearly defined.”

Turk described a conference slated to be held in Brazil in November as a crucial step in shaping this approach. Financing these endeavors poses a challenge, which is why Turk underscored the necessity of aligning financial resources with social-development priorities.

“Public and private finance should be combined in new ways,” he said. “More capacity of private finance should be brought into the picture. But also, on the other hand, public finance must take more risks than was the case so far.”

The overarching theme of this year's UNGA has been multilateralism, a concept that has sparked debates about its viability and relevance. Some diplomatic circles at the UN repeat often that, as conflicts proliferate and inequity widens, the multilateral system has become dysfunctional, if not completely defunct, while its advocates continue to defend its relevance.

Danilo Turk is a former president of Slovenia and current president of Club de Madrid (Arab News photo)

The conclusion of the BBNJ Treaty, an important addition to the international architecture on the Law of the Sea, and the inclusion of loss and damage in the COP27 agreement, which aims to provide financial assistance to poorer nations as they deal with the negative consequences that arise from the risks of climate change, are two examples of success that demonstrate that multilateralism can indeed deliver results, according to its advocates.

Turk acknowledged the “very serious changes and transformations” the global landscape is undergoing. He observed that the world is no longer unipolar. With the liberal unipolar period coming to an end, a new multipolar world is taking shape, introducing complexities in global dynamics.

He said: “The world is (no) longer under the domination of the liberal, unipolar period. This has changed. And now, a new multipolar world is emerging, and it is not yet entirely clear how the relations among new centers of power in the world will look. And those new centers, of course, they have always been there, but they haven’t had the kind of critical role that they are now assuming, in the context of BRICS, for example.”

As the relations among these new centers of power evolve, patient diplomacy remains key to avoiding crises, Turk said.

He added: “We’ve got to be (very) patient because it’s not going to happen overnight. But (we have also got to be) attentive; things can get out of hand.”

In this context, multilateral frameworks, including the UN, continue to be valuable because they offer a crucial gathering space for people worldwide, Turk said.

“If nothing else, the United Nations is a wonderful meeting place, a place where everybody comes, a place where everybody can meet, a place where clarifications can be made in a wide variety of informal, discreet ways in the United Nations building and elsewhere. And that is what the charter of the United Nations has asked the United Nations to be. And that is the function that the United Nations is performing.

“So, I am not excessively pessimistic. I am concerned, but I am not a pessimist.”

As the relations among these new centers of power evolve, patient diplomacy remains key to avoiding crises, Turk said. (AFP/AP)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marked a significant milestone as the first ever fully negotiated, all-encompassing global development strategy formally embraced by both the Global South and the developed world. It was widely celebrated as the dawn of a new era in development collaboration.

Despite significant development gains globally, which have raised many millions of people out of absolute poverty, the UN says that inequality between the world’s richest and poorest countries is widening, an anomaly that was particularly spotlighted at UNGA this year, where it has become clear that the Global South and the Global North are coming to issues from diametrically opposed positions.

Reflecting on the dynamic between the developed and developing worlds, Turk said: “The problem is, as it has always been, the whole question of understanding of development.”

He added: “You know, there are inequalities between states, which are growing. There is a diminished fiscal space in much of the developing world. There is a problem of migration which has gone out of control. And none of these problems is new. All of them have been there before. What is now needed is a kind of renewed effort. The United Nations is offering (not only) a good institutional framework, but also a platform for searching for solutions.”

Referring to the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Turk said: “I am quite encouraged by the fact that initiatives are emerging, that BRICS is becoming more and more — I shouldn’t say assertive — certainly more imaginative … the group of countries together in the BRICS and so forth.

“In short, the agenda is not new at all. The configuration of power and potential of new actors is there, and it will have to be reflected in solutions.


• Danilo Turk lauded Saudi Arabia’s awareness of ‘its growing responsibility and global responsibility’ as ‘good for the world.’

• Club de Madrid is composed of 126 members from 73 countries.

“In the old days we had G77 and that kind of a very bloc-like, North-South dialogue. This is now much more diverse, much more imaginative, much more, I would say, promising. And the North has got to listen. I think that the problem is that the North is not used to listening (to) the messages that are coming from the South. The North has to start to listen.”

In this emerging global political landscape, Turk highlighted the transformative role of emerging powers, including Saudi Arabia.

He observed that the Kingdom is playing an increasingly prominent role not only in the Middle East but also on the international stage, particularly in the context of climate change.

“Saudi Arabia (is) developing a very large number of new policies and new activism at the global level. Now, this is new, and it is not easy to develop a new pattern based on the fact of multipolarity,” he said.

Elaborating on the point, Turk said Saudi Arabia had always been an important player in the Middle East context, but was now an important player in a global context, “and that's different.”

He added: “When it comes to climate, for example, now I think the countries that have benefited from the high energy prices in the past period have an opportunity to invest the proceeds in ways that actually help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and also save the planet. So, we see the responsibility of Saudi Arabia is now much larger because the power is much larger.

“It is fortunate that Saudi Arabia seems to be on the path of assuming this larger responsibility. That’s very good. Of course, I cannot speak for Saudi Arabia and I cannot speak about priorities that Saudi Arabia is developing, but clearly, the awareness of its growing responsibility and global responsibility is there. This is good for the world.”

The UNGA reviewed the implementation of the 2030 agenda. (AFP)

Beyond the Gulf region, the Middle East remains fraught with complex, protracted conflicts, from Syria and Yemen to Sudan and the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Turk said finding solutions to these conflicts is a “question of commitment.” He applauded efforts such as Syria’s readmission to the Arab League, which to him signals a positive approach via diplomatic engagement, with the Arab League “now taking an active approach.”

He added: “And again, Saudi Arabia has a very important role in that regard. So have other countries, including Egypt and others. So, there are solutions that could be developed on the basis of what was done already.”

Turk also lauded initiatives to end the war in Yemen. “There have been very useful initiatives, assisted (indirectly) by China, for example, that have created a new political atmosphere,” he said.

“I hope that the countries that have influence in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, will seize that opportunity to bring peace to Yemen.”

Though the institution has changed over the years, there are still areas where UN reform is needed, said Turk. (AFP)

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turk said: “Palestine is a very sad situation, really very sad. I am saying this deliberately because we should have moved toward a two-state solution much more vigorously and much earlier. I don’t think that a real solution could be ignorant of the legitimate needs for survival of Palestinian people. That has to be put really in the center.

“The international community should come together. We have seen a kind of a diversification of views regarding Palestine, which is not good. Now we have got to figure it out. A two-state solution is the only framework, and this has been known from 1948 onwards, that (it) can produce a stable, durable, just peace in the region.

“Now, how to get there? It’s not clear. It’s perhaps more difficult now than it was 20 years ago. But still, I think, realizing that — and initiatives in that direction — would be very welcome.”

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

Updated 06 December 2023

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

  • Bus carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon
  • The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads

MANILA: A passenger severely injured when a bus plunged into a ravine in the central Philippines has died, taking the death toll from the accident to 17, authorities said on Wednesday.
The bus was carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon, the local governor, Rhodora Cadiao, told a press conference.
Seven people were in critical condition while four were stable and recovering, she said.
Local media had reported earlier than 28 died in the crash.
Cadiao said the bus was traveling to Culasi in Antique from the neighboring province of Iloilo when its brakes malfunctioned on a winding road and it plunged 30 meters (98.5 feet) into the ravine.
“We call that area the killer curve. It was already the second bus that fell off there,” Cadiao told DZRH radio station.
Rescue operations at the site have stopped after all visible bodies were retrieved, the Antique government said on Facebook.
“The engineering design of this road is very faulty,” Cadiao said. “I want to condemn that road already.”
The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads.

US Navy patrol plane flies over sensitive Taiwan Strait

Updated 06 December 2023

US Navy patrol plane flies over sensitive Taiwan Strait

  • China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait

BEIJING: A US Navy patrol aircraft flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US military said, describing the mission as a demonstration of the country’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait. Taiwan and the United States dispute that, saying the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane, which is also used for anti-submarine missions, flew over the strait in international airspace.
“The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows,” it said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from China.
The last time the US Navy announced a Poseidon had flown through the strait, in October, China said it had sent fighter jets to monitor and warn the aircraft.
Taiwan is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13, which China has cast as a choice between war and peace.
China has stepped up its military activity around Taiwan in the past four years, including staging two rounds of major war games over the last year and a half.

Joe Biden tells campaign donors: I am running for reelection to prevent Donald Trump’s return

Updated 06 December 2023

Joe Biden tells campaign donors: I am running for reelection to prevent Donald Trump’s return

  • President using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House

BOSTON: President Joe Biden told campaign donors Tuesday that he wasn’t sure he’d be running for reelection if Donald Trump wasn’t also in the race, warning that democracy is “more at risk in 2024” and that the former president and his allies are out to “destroy” democratic institutions.
The president was using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House, noting that Trump has described himself as his supporters’ “retribution” and has vowed to root out “vermin” in the country.
“We’ve got to get it done, not because of me. ... If Trump wasn’t running I’m not sure I’d be running. We cannot let him win,” Biden said, hitting the last words slowly for emphasis.
Biden’s forceful rhetoric came as Trump, the current GOP front-runner, who tried to overturn the 2020 election he lost and is facing criminal charges connected to those efforts, attempted over the weekend to turn the tables by calling Biden the “destroyer of American democracy.”
Trump on Tuesday was asked by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity to promise he “would never abuse power as retribution against anybody.”
“Except for day one,” Trump responded. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
“After that I’m not a dictator,” Trump added.
Biden’s campaign quickly seized on the comments with an email that read, “Donald Trump: Day One Dictator.” Later, Biden was asked by reporters whether he would be running if Trump wasn’t and gave a slightly different comment, saying, “I expect so, but look, he is running and I have to run.”
He was asked if he would drop out if Trump did and said, “No, not now.”
Biden, who said he is not alone in sounding the alarm over Trump, noted that Trump is the “only losing candidate” in US history to not accept the results. Biden also said that on Jan. 6, 2021, as Trump supporters violently stormed the US Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the election results, Trump sat in his dining room just off the Oval Office, “watching them threaten his own vice president.”
Biden also highlighted recent warnings about Trump from former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, calling her a “powerful voice.”
“American democracy, I give you my word as a Biden, is at stake,” the president said at the first of three campaign fundraisers in the Boston area. Drawing some laughter from donors, Biden also mused: “He didn’t even show up at my inauguration. I can’t say I was disappointed, but he didn’t even show up.”
The warnings by Biden are increasingly part of his pitch to donors: that democracy is at stake if Trump were to win again and he must be defeated. The president is pushing to raise money for his reelection effort before the end of the year, appearing at seven events through Monday — with more to come. The events in Boston on Tuesday benefit his campaign and the broader Democratic Party.
They included an evening event in the city’s theater district featuring a concert by singer-songwriter James Taylor, who helped kick off a White House event in 2022 celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate and health care bill that Biden signed into law.
Onstage, Biden joked to the packed theater audience that he wouldn’t be long because he knew he was “the only thing standing” between the audience and the performance by Taylor.
“We’re always going to defend protect and fight for democracy,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
November was the campaign’s strongest grassroots fundraising month since Biden formally announced last April that he was seeking a second term, according to a campaign official who insisted on anonymity to discuss campaign finances before details are made public. The numbers will be released in January.
In October, Biden and the Democratic National Committee reported raising more than $71 million for his reelection in the three months ending Sept. 30, a sign that donors remained behind him going into the 2024 presidential race.
Biden had only political events on his public schedule for Tuesday, which is rare. Presidents who are running for reelection typically include an official event, like a policy speech, on the schedule to help defray costs for their campaign.
Biden will also attend a fundraiser Wednesday near the White House and another one Monday in Philadelphia. He’ll headline fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and in Maryland later in December.
On Friday, Biden will head to Los Angeles for a big-dollar event that will be his first since strikes by writers and actors effectively ground his fundraising to a halt in the heart of the entertainment industry, which has long served as a major source of campaign money for Democrats.

In rare Israel rebuke, US restricts visas on extremist settlers

Updated 06 December 2023

In rare Israel rebuke, US restricts visas on extremist settlers

  • US would refuse entry to anyone involved in ‘undermining peace, security or stability in the West Bank’

LONDON: In a rare punitive move against Israel, the US State Department said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash of recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

"Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities," it said in a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken announced the step after repeatedly warning Israel last week that President Joe Biden's administration would be taking action over the attacks. Blinken did not announce individual visa bans, but officials said those would be coming this week and could affect dozens of settlers and their families.

"Immediate family members of such persons also may be subject to these restrictions," Blinken said, however, the statement did not identify any individuals facing visa bans, or say how many would be targeted.

The decision comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Biden administration has firmly backed Israel since an attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, even as international criticism of Israel has mounted.

But in recent weeks, the administration has stepped up calls on Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties as the Israelis expand their offensive and target densely populated southern Gaza.

Daily settler attacks have more than doubled, U.N. figures show, since Hamas, which controls the separate Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killed 1,200 Israelis and took about 240 hostage. Israel has since bombed and invaded Gaza, killing more than 16,000 people.

"The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks against Israelis," Blinken said. 

"We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank," he added. "As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable. Last week in Israel, I made clear that the United States is ready to take action using our own authorities."

During meetings in Israel last week, Blinken told officials Washington was "ready to take action using our own authorities," he said.

Blinken said Washington would "continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim," and would "continue to engage with the Israeli leadership to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks." 

He also called on the "Palestinian Authority to make clear it must do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

"Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank," Blinken said, adding: "Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests. Those responsible for it must be held accountable."

Tuesday's move comes just a month after Israel was granted entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows its citizens visa-free entry into the U.S. Those targeted by the action will not be eligible for the program, and those who hold current U.S. visas will have them revoked.

(With AP and Reuters)

Cameron to reaffirm British support for Ukraine in US visit

Updated 06 December 2023

Cameron to reaffirm British support for Ukraine in US visit

  • The US Congress has approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, but has not cleared any more funds since Republicans took control of the House from President Joe Biden’s Democrats in January

LONDON: Britain’s foreign minister David Cameron will underline the importance of support and humanitarian funding for Ukraine during his first visit to Washington since he assumed his post last month, the UK foreign office said on Wednesday.
The former prime minister will travel to the United States to reaffirm both the strength of Britain’s relationship with Washington and London’s continued support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
The US Congress has approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, but has not cleared any more funds since Republicans took control of the House from President Joe Biden’s Democrats in January.
Last month, Cameron used his first trip abroad to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
“The Foreign Secretary has announced a new winter humanitarian response package of 29 million pounds ($36.52 million) for Ukraine and will bolster support with a further 7.75 million pounds ($9.76 million) for humanitarian activities,” the foreign office said in a statement.
It comes as Britain is set to target military and foreign suppliers exporting equipment and parts to Russia, among dozens of individuals and groups, through a series of sanctions.
The foreign office said that in Washington Cameron would also discuss the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and getting humanitarian aid to those affected in Israeli-besieged Gaza.
“We also stand united in the Middle East, working together to ensure long-term security and stability in the region, and in responding to the challenges posed by China,” Cameron said.
Britain and the United States can work toward a long-term two-state solution which allows both Israel and the Palestinians can co-exist in peace, his office said. ($1 = 0.7941 pounds)