London 2012: Britain sets Olympic record for UN truce call

Iranian athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Iran, North Korea and South Sudan are among the nations who have signed up to the call for a truce

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Britain has set an early Olympic record by getting all 193 UN member states to sponsor the traditional call for a truce during the London 2012 Games.

There was no expectation that any country would vote against the appeal for warring parties around the world to temporarily cease hostilities, but British diplomats wanted to go a step further and have everyone officially co-sponsor their truce resolution.

The feat took an Olympian effort that involved weeks of lobbying and innovative tactics to hunt down small elusive states, and persuade political foes to sign on.

The Olympic truce dates back to the 9th Century BC. It broke the constant cycle of war between Greek city states, establishing a window of peace to make the Games possible.

The custom was revived through UN resolutions in the early 1990s as a symbolic gesture, albeit one that is often violated. The Georgia War that erupted on the eve of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is one recent example.

Drinks party

Nevertheless, British diplomats aimed for at least a show of world peace and a chance to break the record of 191 co-sponsors set by Greece in 2004.

Envoys raised it at every opportunity possible. As the date neared they attended receptions with a copy of the resolution under their arm. One reported that several ambassadors had signed up on the spot after a few drinks at a diplomatic party.

But not everyone was so available, including the two states that do not have missions in New York - South Sudan and the island nation of Kiribati.

South Sudan was eventually persuaded to fax UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking that Britain be authorised to sign on its behalf. Kiribati emailed instructions for its proxy signature to New Zealand.

In other cases there was an embassy but no ambassador present. The envoy from Central African Republic was not picking up his phone, but the Belgian ambassador travelling with him in the Central African Republic was, and he is the one who took the call from British diplomats.

Shared memories

Dealing with so-called "rogue" states was another challenge. Diplomats said they used whatever leverage they had.

London view

In the case of North Korea that was sport - shared memories from the 1966 World Cup, hosted in England and attended by North Korea, and the fact that the first Western film aired on North Korean TV was the British football-based movie Bend it Like Beckham.

Iran and Syria were the last to add their names to the list just before the chairman of London's Olympic organising committee, Lord Coe, formally presented the resolution to the General Assembly.

Lord Coe hailed sport as a force that can promote peace, citing the case of the black American sprinter Jesse Owens breaking racist barriers at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and that of North and South Korean athletes marching together at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Whether this translates into world peace during the 2012 Games is another matter. But until then Britain can say it has full support for a truce, at least on paper.

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