World leaders take first step to fight poverty and terrorism but fall short of larger goals
September 16, 2005
UNITED NATIONS – History’s largest gathering of world leaders fell far short Friday of completing the major changes U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought to fight poverty, terrorism and human rights abuses – but the leaders took a first step.At the end of a three-day summit, the leaders adopted a 35-page document by consensus and then burst into applause.The leaders’ approval of the document – which commits governments to achieving U.N. goals to combat poverty and creates a commission to help move countries from war to peace – came alongside important developments in other areas.Meetings on the sidelines of the summit marking the United Nations’ 60th anniversary produced rare Arab-Israeli contacts, further talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a new treaty by dozens of countries aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism.President Bush, who two years ago questioned whether the United Nations was relevant, surprised many by giving the world body his strong backing. He also won praise for declaring that poverty breeds terrorism and despair and challenging world leaders to abolish all trade tariffs and subsidies to promote prosperity and opportunity in struggling nations.The three-day summit brought presidents, prime ministers and kings from 151 of the 191 U.N. member states to the United Nations – a record number according to U.N. officials. Leaders from the most powerful nations hobnobbed with those from tiny Pacific island states like Tuvalu, and the key phrase was one-on-one “face time.”Instead of adopting Annan’s sweeping blueprint to enable the world body to deal with the challenges of a new century, they were presented with a diluted 35-page document. The final document represented the lowest common denominator that all countries could agree on after months of negotiations.Even then, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez objected to the “abhorrent and anti-democratic means” used to negotiate the document, saying that too few nations had a hand in drafting it. “This organization can have nothing good awaiting it if it follows such procedures,” he said.Later, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque called it “a summit of selfishness, of arrogance and of lies,” and Belarus said it was a sad day for the United Nations.But for the vast majority of countries the final document was welcome, because up until the eve of the summit the differences were so wide that there was no certainty there would be an agreement.”The outcome document represents an important step in a long process of U.N. reform,” U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. “We cannot allow the reform effort to be derailed or run out of steam.”Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis said the United Nations, built for the post-World War II era, “has to adapt in order to be effective in the new international environment.””The United Nations, the only truly global institution of humanity, endowed with a unique legitimacy, must respond to the new realities and challenges,” he said.But Australian Prime Minister John Howard said, “We should not think that the United Nations can solve all the world’s problems, nor that it should attempt to do so.”Annan, speaking in an interview with the BBC aired Friday, rejected suggestions that the U.N. was trying to act as a world government.”I hope the U.N. will not be seen as a world government. If I give the impression we are a world government, we’ll get even more critics and our critics will be emboldened,” he said.Annan said the summit would make an “important advance” despite the dilution of key elements of the U.N. reform plan he presented in March.The most significant planks in the final document are the creation of a new Peacebuilding Commission to help countries emerging from conflict and an acceptance by all governments of the collective international responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.For the first time, the declaration condemns terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes,” but skirts the contentious issue of defining terrorism because of objections that independence struggles would be targeted.It agrees to establish a Human Rights Council to replace the Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticized for becoming politicized and having rights abusers among its members – but there is no guarantee this won’t happen with the new body.The original thrust of the summit was to take action to implement U.N. goals stemming from the declaration by world leaders at their last summit in 2000. They include cutting poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.Bush endorsed all the goals – except calling for rich nations to spend 0.7 percent of their GDP on development aid, but his overall support was welcomed by a number of developing countries and anti-poverty activists.”The world is expecting us to make poverty history – to turn poverty into something our great grandchildren will read about, but not really understand, like the medieval plagues,” Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik told the summit. “We can do it. And we must do it.”But divisions were so strong that the entire section on disarmament and nonproliferation in the document was dropped, a move which Annan called “a disgrace.” Expansion of the U.N. Security Council, which consumed months of negotiations in the run-up to the summit, proved so contentious that it was shelved, and the issue was reduced to a single paragraph in the final document.After a year of criticism over reported corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq and allegations of bribery by U.N. purchasing officials, diplomats agreed to create an internal ethics office but they didn’t give Annan the authority he wanted to make sweeping management changes.Many of these issues will remain on the agenda over the next 12 days during the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly. The meeting begins Saturday morning with a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to respond to a European demand for Iran to halt uranium enrichment in his speech Saturday afternoon.According to European diplomats and officials, Ahmadinejad may offer to put Iran’s nuclear activities under broader international supervision, but will not give up Tehran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses. The diplomats in Vienna, Austria, where the U.N. nuclear agency is headquartered, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the EU-Iran meetings.On another perennial global troublespot, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received some welcome returns during the summit for withdrawing from Gaza – an unusual meeting Thursday between Israel’s foreign ministers and his counterpart from Qatar.Sharon met Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Friday morning, just before the king’s summit speech in which he called for “zero tolerance” against extremism and said his Arab kingdom is working to promote moderate Islam across the globe.