By Judy Aita ,Washington File United Nations Correspondent
United Nations -- Although his efforts to put Africa at the center stage of the Security Council for what he termed "the month of Africa" have ended, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is already saying that 2000 must be the "year of Africa."
Holbrooke, chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations, stressed in a recent interview with the Voice of America that a "double standard" in foreign policy where African issues are concerned -- in comparison with those of Europe or other regions of the world -- "simply does not exist in the minds of the president, vice-president, Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright, myself."
"Africa is vitally important, and we're going to give it all the attention we can over the coming months and the rest of the year, and the rest of this administration," he said.
Within hours after passing the Security Council presidency over to Argentina, Holbrooke was traveling to Washington to win bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for programs to help Africa, especially an expanded peacekeeping contingent for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
During January the council held six open debates on some of Africa's most pressing problems, with two particularly historic sessions. One session, with U.S. Vice President Al Gore presiding, focused on AIDS in Africa -- a calamity that undermines Africa's stability and progress. Another series of discussions centered on the DRC and was attended by the seven African presidents who signed the Lusaka Cease-fire Agreement and the new facilitator of the political talks, former president of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire.
Holbrooke said that he is "hopeful," but that "history will tell" whether the formal Security Council sessions, as well as numerous private meetings and a mini-summit convened by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have provided the breakthrough in solidifying the fragile cease-fire.
The week of January 24-28 created "the opportunity for a breakthrough, provided that the parties who came here ... fulfill their commitments to carry out the Lusaka peace process and the United Nations sends the phase two peacekeepers," the ambassador said.
But Holbrooke refused to consider the possibility of a failure, an alternative he termed "too awful to contemplate."
Holbrooke also said that he felt DRC President Laurent Kabila now understands that the United States is a neutral partner in efforts to bring peace to his country, pointing out that when Kabila left New York, "he expressed high satisfaction with the situation, publicly and privately."
Holbrooke and other U.S. diplomats met with two DRC opposition leaders who also have signed the Lusaka Agreement. Both attended the Security Council sessions, although they did not speak because council rules allow for only official government representatives to appear at council meetings.
"They are signatories to Lusaka and they have a legitimate role to play in the solution to this problem," the ambassador said. "We made sure they were able to attend the meetings and they, too, pronounced themselves satisfied with the outcome last week -- and they said this publicly."
Holbrooke explained that Angola -- also the subject of a council meeting last month -- is a "huge complicating factor" in the DRC situation.. This is mainly "because President dos Santos' primary concerns are to end his own civil war, which is now going on for over 35 years, by eliminating his enemy and opponent, Mr. Savimbi," he said.
"Angola sometimes takes actions in pursuit of its objectives in regard to Savimbi which don't always support peace in the Congo," Holbrooke said -- but he added that during his New York visit dos Santos "pledged to support Lusaka."
The council, under the guidance of Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler, chairman of the Angola Sanctions Committee, is undertaking a new effort to tighten sanctions on UNITA and further cripple Savimbi's ability to buy arms to wage war.
"The United Nations and the United States support the sanctions against Savimbi and UNITA very strongly," Holbrooke said.
Turning to Africa's AIDS problem, Holbrooke termed the council's session on the pandemic "historic" because it made plain that the disease poses a threat to the continent's overall peace and security and is therefore an issue for Security Council consideration.
"A lot of people thought we couldn't make AIDS a security issue," Holbrooke said. "We needed the support of all the other members of the Security Council -- all of them agreed, some more reluctantly than others."
Vice President Gore announced at the session that the Clinton administration intends to increase the amount of money spent to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases worldwide by $100 million (to $325 million) in the year 2001. The money will go to reduce the stigma and prevent the spread of AIDS, reduce mother-to-child transmission, support care for AIDS victims and children orphaned by the disease, and build health infrastructure.
"It's a tripling of the American commitment," Holbrooke pointed out, noting that Japan immediately said that it, too, would increase its contribution. "This is an issue of such dimension that everyone has to work on it at once, and to do that ... the United States needs to be the leader, but not the sole people to work on it."
Ambassador James Cunningham, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told a group of representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) February 3 that one U.S. goal for its presidency was "to enlarge the parameters of Security Council discussion both in terms of the content and in terms of who should participate ... and broaden the discussion of security issues that have a deep impact on Africa's stability and progress, most particularly AIDS and refugees."
"We know that all the initiatives begun this month will require intensive follow-up and sustained engagement not only by the United States, the U.N., and the Security Council, but by Africans themselves," he said.
At the same briefing for NGOs, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, the secretary-general's advisor for special assignments in Africa, praised the U.S. delegation for bringing high-profile attention to Africa during the month. And he added that for the secretary-general, "every month of the year is the month of Africa because he has to deal with African issues on a continual and continuing basis."
"As you know, many Africans believe that there is no shortage of analysis of African conditions, no shortage of Security Council debates on Africa, but what the people of Africa need is action to match those words," said Gambari, who was Nigeria's chief envoy to the United Nations for 10 years before taking on the assignment from the secretary-general in December 1999.
"There are all kinds of proposals for follow-up. There has been a call for greater cooperation and collaboration between the OAU and the United Nations on a more regular basis. The British have proposed an informal working of the council to examine African issues on an ongoing basis," he noted. "There are, of course, several actions that need to be done by the African countries themselves, including the parties to the conflict."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)