In an unexpected boost to slow-moving negotiations at the United Nations on enlargement of the Security Council, America is droppingits demand that the new body should be limited to 21 seats. The council now has 15members.
The change in stance, which was welcomed yesterday by Britain, was signalled by the American ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, at a meeting of a working group on Security Council reform. He said that the US was ready for a council with "slightly more" than 21 places.
The council, which is the nexus of power and prestige at the UN, currently consists of five permanent delegations - Britain, the US, France, China and Russia - with the other 10 seats rotated on a two-year basis to non-permanent members. Membership of the body is a jealously guarded privilege.
While enlarging the council has been on the agenda for several years, progress has been snail-like. By insisting that the overall size should be held at 21, the US was in effect blocking any final agreement because it has long been evident that that would not satisfy the wider UN membership. Any changes will have to be approved by two-thirds of the General Assembly.
Mr Holbrooke is evidently hoping also to draw some of the poison from the relationship between the US and the UN. It may also help unblock talks on cutting US contributions to the UN.