Race for Security Council spot enters critical phase

Eyes on the prize … Prime Minister Julia Gillard with NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.AUSTRALIA’S multimillion-dollar quest for a prized seat on the United Nations Security Council is into its crucial final phase, with intense lobbying to win backing from 129 countries in a worldwide vote.

There are hopes Australia is well placed to win a three-way battle with Finland and Luxembourg in what has been characterised a mostly ”honourable campaign”.

”It is something like measured optimism but it is a long way from being a sure thing,” the veteran former diplomat John McCarthy told the Herald.

Mr McCarthy is one of several special envoys who have fanned across the globe to put Australia’s case in countries where our diplomats are thin on the ground.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will press the case at a special summit of world leaders in September in New York before the final ballot.

But her guest in Canberra yesterday, the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he was ”very appreciative” of all efforts to make the council more effective, but NATO never interfered in how its members voted.

Australia is competing for one of two temporary spots on the council reserved for ”western European and other” countries. The vote will be held in October. Luxembourg is a NATO member and Finland is not.

Australia’s diplomatic network is among the smallest in the developed world and the opposition has accused the government of wasting scarce resources on the Security Council campaign.

Labor has allocated more than $20 million to the bid since the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, nominated Australia – a late entry after Luxembourg and Finland declared their candidacy years earlier.

The late start has hampered Australia, with several countries, including Canada and Indonesia, having already committed to the competitors in the first round of voting. But Australia is hoping to win votes in a second-round ballot, should no country initially win the required two-thirds from the 193 countries eligible to vote.

Australia has already secured many votes. The Thai Prime Minister was the latest to pledge support during a visit to Canberra last month.

Other commitments have been given by Pacific island nations, New Zealand and a handful of Caribbean countries.

But close observers warn many countries only make up their mind – or change it – in the last weeks, making the lobbying effort from now until the vote critical.

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