UNSC seat an imperative for India: Diplomat Hardeep Puri

Washington, Feb 24 (IANS) Bullish on India, veteran Indian diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri says being on the UN Security Council is not an option but an imperative for a country of India's standing as that's where the real action is.

And, if an expansion of the Security Council with a permanent seat for India at the decision-making high table were to take time, India would have to come back and seek an early re-election as a non-permanent member, Puri told IANS in an interview from New York.

"No matter which way you may look at it, being on the Security Council is not an option for India," said Puri, India's permanent representative at the UN, who is set to hang his boots Thursday after a 39-year distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service.

"Believe me, so much of the UN's hardcore political work is done in the Security Council that being on the Council is an imperative for a country of India's standing," said the diplomat who played a key role in India's election to a non-permanent seat for a two-year term in 2010.

"I don't say that just for India, but a country of India's standing," he said. "It's very difficult to visualise countries like India, Brazil and South Africa not being permanent members of the Council."

Puri also saw "some significant developments" in India's quest for a permanent seat with an expansion of the Security Council since the process moved from the earlier 'open-ended working group' - "which was, if you permit me to say, pure waffle" - to the inter-governmental negotiating process in March 2009.

Since then, eight rounds of negotiations have been held. "Now my submission is after eight rounds there are only one or two conclusions that are possible - either we have another round and fold up or we get a result," he said.

"The result people are seeking is very simply a shorter text which lists the different models which can be available for expansion," Puri said adding that India was close to reaching an agreed text with the African group, which has 53 members.

But he thought "it will take a month or two or three at the most for a common text to emerge" from consultations among various regional groups.

Reflecting on India's two-year tenure on the Security Council during 2011-12, Puri said: "Whichever way one looks at it, one has reason to be satisfied."

"We were able to pursue our national interests as well as larger causes in terms of global issues and principles on which India has an established track record," he said. "We had two very successful presidencies of the Council, once in August 2011 and again in 2012."

But what tops Puri's list of achievements is "our ability to pursue our national interests in the countries of our immediate neighbourhood".

India participated in the Security Council processes on these countries and was "able to reflect on developments and shape the outcomes in the manner that serves our interests", he said.

On some broader thematic issues of major concern to India such as terrorism, for instance, "we were able to get approval for the concept of zero tolerance," said Puri, who was elected chairperson of the UNSC counter-terrorism committee.

Besides major advances in the areas of terrorism financing, India was for the first time able to have a Security Council presidential statement in Nov 2012 focussed on dealing with piracy and counter-piracy measures in a comprehensive manner, he said.

Turning to global hot spots resulting from developments in Africa in general and the Arab Spring in particular, Puri said: "The unfolding situation, both in Libya and Syria, is clearly demonstrated by the wisdom and maturity of the Indian approach, which would now be even better understood."

In sum: "India is a country much in demand, highly respected, very sought after," Puri told IANS. "I mean the kind of treatment one receives on the Council fills one's heart with joy."

India, he noted, was consulted on all global issues by the Permanent five, especially on the issues related to Africa given its tradition of empathy and support for Africa.

Discounting suggestions that the current economic slowdown might have affected India's global standing, Puri said: "There is a slowdown in most parts of the world. And by relative standards we are doing quite well" with an expected 5.5 to 6 percent growth.

"I am bullish on India. I have been bullish on India all my life," Puri said. "Let me tell you, India is a good story, temporary preoccupations with social issues and corruption notwithstanding."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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