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South Africa to Convene Friends of the Chair Meeting to Help Speed Agreement on Johannesburg Outcome

New York, 9 July—South African President Thabo Mbeki has invited 25 countries to serve as "Friends of the Chair" for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in an effort to find an approach that will help resolve the remaining differences and achieve a global consensus at the Summit. The group will hold its first meeting in New York on 17 July.

The South African initiative grew out of discussions between President Mbeki and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan during the Group of Eight Summit in Kananaskis, Canada last month. According to South African UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the leaders of the G8 were among the first to accept President Mbeki's invitation.

The 25 countries were selected based on geographical representation as well as "their common interest in the pending issues, and their overall commitment to the success of the Johannesburg Summit," Kumalo said.

South Africa assumed the chairmanship of the Summit after the last preparatory meeting in Bali, Indonesia last month. The Bali meeting concluded with agreements on about three-quarters of the Summit's implementation plan, and the remaining issues, which include some of the most difficult, were left for Johannesburg. The Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Summit was Dr. Emil Salim of Indonesia.

The 17 July meeting will be led by South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and by the UN Secretary-General. It is South Africa's hope that the meeting will be attended by Ministers or "sherpas" who report directly to the Heads of State and Government of the invited countries.

President Mbeki, according to a press release issued by the South African Mission to the United Nations, "remains convinced that a focused political discussion of the outstanding issues could result in an approach that can help expedite the process in Johannesburg."

The Friends of the Chair meeting will not be a negotiating session, which must be open to all Member States. Rather, it provides an opportunity for key players to find an approach or a mechanism that would facilitate the negotiations to be held in Johannesburg.

Still to be resolved are issues concerning trade and finance, globalization, setting targets and timetables, and differences over the interpretation of principles adopted at the Earth Summit.

South African representatives noted that the Bali PrepCom was successful in reducing the number of outstanding issues in the implementation plan, and expressed their appreciation for Indonesia's efforts in hosting the meeting.

The countries invited by President Mbeki to serve as Friends of the Chair include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sweden, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.

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24 August 2006