• Kyodo

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While the possible pregnancy of his predecessor’s daughter, the Crown Princess, is attracting massive public attention at home, Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations Yukio Sato’s bid for his country’s permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council has gone largely unheralded.

To Sato’s chagrin, despite garnering basic international support for its bid for the seat, Japan lacks the public enthusiasm needed to encourage it to lead world opinion and push U.N. Security Council reform through.

“Everybody in Japan simply regards the matter as something that might happen in the remote future,” said Sato, who has pursued the goal since taking over the post in October 1998 from Hisashi Owada, father of the Crown Princess.

Sato complained of the Japanese media turning a blind eye to U.N. moves toward Security Council reform.

The media have instead devoted massive coverage to the apparent pregnancy of the princess since the Imperial Household Agency’s announcement last week that she may be pregnant.

Japan’s politicians have also failed to demonstrate much enthusiasm. “The other day one of a group of visiting ruling and opposition lawmakers told me Japanese people do not have a desire for permanent U.N. Security Council membership,” Sato said.

“I asked them if people will remain cool when Germany, India or whatever country would be gaining it. They said no,” the envoy said in a recent interview with a group of Japanese reporters at his office near the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Sato hopes the world body will succeed in activating debate on U.N. Security Council reform by 2003, the 10th anniversary of the 1993 launch of a U.N. working group tasked to discuss the issue.

According to the latest Japanese government survey conducted in October, 67.1 percent of respondents in Japan support the country’s UNSC bid, while 9.9 percent are against it. Supporters, however, have failed to launch any massive drive to that end.

For years, Japanese leaders have sought to enhance the country’s dignity in the international community by obtaining a permanent seat in the U.N. body, which takes charge of international peace and security and has the power to make decisions binding to all 189 U.N. members.

Currently, the five declared nuclear states and World War II victors — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — hold permanent membership with veto power, while 10 other countries take turns holding nonpermanent seats that have no veto power.

Japan has proposed expanding the council’s membership from 15 to 24 — 10 permanent and 14 nonpermanent members — and decreasing the veto power of its permanent members.

Among about a dozen countries that have expressed hope to become permanent members are Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Most of the hopefuls, however, must deal with problems in regional relations before hoping to become winning candidates.

Also vexing to Sato is the departure of longtime friend Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., following the end of former President Bill Clinton’s second term in January.

Holbrooke, a veteran U.S. diplomat, was considered a leading candidate for secretary of state had former Vice President Al Gore managed to beat George W. Bush in the last U.S. presidential election.

Holbrooke understood Japan’s Security Council bid well, according to Sato. The U.S. is one of the most important countries supporting Japan’s push for permanent membership.

The envoy said he is now waiting for the Bush administration to formalize which staff will deal with U.N. issues. Sato will then begin trying to persuade them to support Japan’s proposal to expand the number of seats on the U.N. Security Council.

On March 6, Bush named former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte as new U.N. envoy. The nominee has yet to secure Senate approval.

“It would be no use hurrying. I am waiting,” he said.

Sato could be waiting for some time: It took 14 months for Holbrooke to attain Senate confirmation in August 1999.

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