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In a significant diplomatic setback for Japan, top leaders of the Group of Eight major countries are unlikely to refer to the need for reform of the United Nations Security Council in a joint declaration to be issued at their upcoming summit in Okinawa.

Government sources said Tuesday that the G8 leaders’ declaration will probably emphasize the importance of strengthening the overall U.N. functions to address conflicts and other challenges facing the world, without making any specific reference to the U.N. Security Council.

The sources said that although Japan has insisted on including membership expansion and other reforms of the powerful Security Council in the declaration to promote its bid for a permanent seat on the 15-nation council, some G8 members, including Italy, are either opposed or reluctant to do so.

The sources said, however, that unlike the top G8 leaders, the G8 foreign ministers may refer to reforms of the U.N. Security Council in a communique to be adopted at their two-day meeting in Miyazaki Prefecture, which will start July 12.

Japan and Germany are the most promising industrialized candidates to join the Security Council as permanent members. Italy has been reluctant about reform of the council because it does not want Germany to become a permanent council member.

At present, there are five permanent council members with veto powers: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The 10 other council members are not permanent. If Germany obtains a permanent council seat, it would leave Italy as the only major European industrialized country that does not have such a seat.

In addition to Italy, France and Canada are also reluctant to have the G8 leaders’ joint declaration refer to reform of the U.N. Security Council, the sources said. The G8 comprises the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Reforms of the Security Council have been discussed since 1993 by a special task force set up under the U.N. General Assembly. But no significant progress has been made on the discussions because of sharp differences over questions such as the size of a possible membership increase and whether to grant new permanent members veto powers.

The U.S. announced in early April that it is willing to discuss increasing the council membership from the current 15 to a little more than 21, which is the maximum number that the country had previously set on future council membership.

The sudden change in U.S. policy toward reforms of the Security Council has raised hopes for a breakthrough in stalled discussions on the matter.

Japan had hoped the G8 leaders’ joint declaration would refer to reforms of the U.N. Security Council, giving fresh political momentum to the matter ahead of the three-day U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, starting Sept. 6.

While stressing the need for strengthened functions of the U.N. to address conflicts and other issues, the G8 leaders and foreign ministers are likely to agree at their separate meetings this month to adopt and promote a “comprehensive approach” to preventing regional conflicts, the sources said.

The comprehensive approach is a new concept under which development assistance, humanitarian relief activities and democratization support will be implemented simultaneously to prevent regional conflicts.

The sources said that the G8 leaders and foreign ministers are also likely to emphasize the importance of closer cooperation among governments, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations to promote the comprehensive approach to preventing regional conflicts.