Britain backs South Africa for seat on UN Security Council

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The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband signalled yesterday that he was willing to push forward a long-delayed expansion of the United Nations Security Council and he identified South Africa as the best candidate to represent the interests of the African continent. He also mentioned India, Brazil and Japan.

Mr Miliband will acknowledge during a speech to the UN General Assembly tomorrow that the current distribution of power in the current Security Council, established after the Second World War, is no longer appropriate. However, he made clear Britain intended to hold on to its permanent seat, which carries crucial veto power and ruled out creating a single permanent seat for the European Union.

"I think it's perfectly legitimate for you to say Britain is a privileged member of the UN as a result of our membership of the Security Council. I think others have got a strong claim to join us there."

The issue of council seats remains sensitive, with countries in various regions vying with each other to be considered. Although President George Bush this week also expressed a willingness to add new members, arguments over its composition are likely to continue.

South Africa has become increasingly important to Britain as the only country realistically able to broker a political solution in neighbouring Zimbabwe, including the peaceful removal of President Robert Mugabe. But other African nations, including Nigeria, are seeking a council seat for themselves.

"We think, very clearly, that the South Africas of this world, the Japans of this world, the Brazils of this world, the Indias of this world, have a very clear claim, and we will be arguing for UN reform," Mr Miliband said.

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, also made the case for her country joining. "Germany is prepared, with the adoption of a permanent Security Council seat, to take more responsibility," she said.