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Serbian FM causes storm with UN campaign

31 march 2012, 18:10
Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic. ©REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic. ©REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic has sparked a diplomatic battle in Eastern Europe with a bid to secure one of the top posts in the United Nations system, AFP reports.

Lithuania has accused Russia of reopening Cold War wounds by backing Jeremic against a Lithuanian candidate for the UN General Assembly presidency. Its foreign minister said Jeremic had tried to "blackmail" the Baltic state in the contest.

Jeremic is one of the most high-profile foreign ministers in Eastern Europe, regularly appearing at the UN Security Council to put his country's case on the Kosovo dispute and events in the Balkans.

He strongly rejected attacks by his Lithuanian counterpart Audronius Azubalis and countered that Serbia deserves a chance to get a top international position.

The president of the 193-member UN assembly is usually elected by acclamation for one year with the five regional groups taking turns to put forward a candidate. Eastern Europe is up this year.

But because the 23 countries cannot make a consensus choice between Jeremic or Lithuania's UN ambassador Dalius Cekuolis, the full assembly will have to hold in June its first vote for the position since 1991.

Jeremic and Azubalis are lobbying furiously in New York.

"This has reopened all the old rivalries in Eastern Europe, we do not need this battle," said one UN envoy from the regional group, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cekuolis was nominated last June and Azubalis said he was stunned when Jeremic announced in January that he would be standing.

"I think it is regrettable and it shows that at least some politicians still have a long way to go to reach an understanding how politics in Europe should be," the Lithanian minister told reporters.

He said Serbia and Russia were trying to "veto" Lithuanian hopes by refusing to accept a vote in the East European group, which normally acts by consensus.

Lithuania suspects Russia encouraged Jeremic to stand against Cekuolis as part of lingering hostility over the Soviet occupation of Lithuania from 1945 until 1990, diplomats said.

Russia and Lithuania have a history of post-Soviet antagonism and diplomatic spats. At least one of Cekuolis's speeches at the UN has infuriated Russia.

"What we have heard unofficially is that Russia is obsessed about how we see the history of the Second World War," the Lithuanian minister said of Russia's stance in the UN nomination battle. "Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but it looks like a disagreement regarding history."

Russian diplomats and Jeremic strongly denied any conspiracy. Russia's UN mission spokesman, Anton Uspensky, made clear his country's opposition to Lithuania, however.

"We believe that a person who does not understand the importance of the victory over Nazism, which created the conditions for the United Nations, should not be presiding over the General Assembly," Uspensky told AFP.

Lithuania was "first" to be told this, he added.

Azubalis alleged that Jeremic had threatened to block Lithuania's bid to get a seat on the Security Council in 2014 if it did not give up the UN presidency.

"We always thought that we should build our relations, not on blackmailing, not on using veto, but on simple bilateral dialogue," said the Lithuanian minister.

Lithuania chaired the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2011 and Cekuolis has been president of the UN Economic and Social Council.

Jeremic questioned whether Lithuania should have both the UN Assembly presidency and a Security Council seat.

"They are a small country. We are a small country. I think we can make an even better job in serving the UN system if we divide up the responsibilities," Jeremic said in an interview.

The foreign minister insisted he has broken no rules. "This is one of the reasons we believe we have a good chance to win the majority."

The Serbian and Lithuanian ministers met in Brussels last week and bargaining is underway.

"I think we have proposed to Lithuania a fair deal. Lithuania is running next year for a position on the Security Council; we are ready to support them for this position. We have made public our readiness to support them."

Jeremic's future as foreign minister could be in doubt after a national election in May. But he said the fact he is a minister and the country's efforts on "stabilizing the Balkans and reconciliation in the Balkans" showed Serbia is serious.

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