World’s largest summit opens to endorse UN reforms

The United Nations rolled out the red carpet on Wednesday for more than 170 leaders attending the world’s largest summit one day after approving a watered-down blueprint to restructure the embattled world body on its 60th anniversary.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to meet United States President George Bush, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and nearly 50 prime ministers, including Britain’s Tony Blair, France’s Dominique de Villepin and Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi, during the three-day gathering.

Annan hosts the event following a critical report on the UN’s role in managing the oil-for-food programme with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

An independent panel last week cleared Annan of ethical lapses in the $100-billion humanitarian scheme, but documented evidence of corruption and lapses in management.

The world leaders will be tasked with endorsing a 35-page reform document approved by the UN General Assembly after months of hard bargaining.

The reform package sought to strike a balance between fighting global poverty and battling terrorism, while promoting human rights, preventing genocide and carrying out UN management reforms.

But the compromise document shows how far apart rich and poor nations remained on several key issues, including human rights, UN management practices and disarmament, which was left out altogether.

”We didn’t get everything we wanted,” said Annan, who had presented an ambitious plan for sweeping institutional reform. ”But we can build on it.”

The failure to find common ground on disarmament was ”a real disgrace”, Annan said.

US officials had pushed hard for UN management reforms and the creation of a new Human Rights Council.

”We didn’t get everything we wanted,” said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. ”We had to compromise.”

Burns said that it is ”not a 100% victory, but it’s a very good beginning … There is some unfinished business. We have to come back in a few months.”

Britain’s UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry said on behalf of the European Union that the compromise document ”is a tremendous achievement”.

”It means that the summit can start on a correct basis,” he added. ”For us the challenge will be … to actually maintain the progress of what has been agreed today.”

NGOs, which have been monitoring the negotiations, complained that the proposed reforms were too timid.

”In terms of an ambitious moment, we haven’t got it,” said Nicola Reindorp, of the British charity Oxfam International. ”If this was meant to be the big moment of governments reviewing how they are going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, by any stretch of the imagination they failed on this point.”

The reform document was approved on Tuesday as Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson succeeded Gabon’s Jean Ping as chairperson of the incoming General Assembly’s 60th session.

Bilateral meetings

On the sidelines of the summit, the leaders were to hold a series of bilateral meetings

Bush was to meet with Blair, his closest ally in the war in Iraq, attend a UN Security Council summit and attend the launch of the UN Democracy Fund, which aims to help countries hold elections.

The US leader was also to discuss the Middle East peace process with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in their first meeting since Israel’s historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Bush’s speech to the UN plenary meeting was to give him an opportunity to thank the roughly 100 countries that have offered to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

He was also to sign a compact aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and keeping them out of the hands of terrorists.

Also speaking on Wednesday was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new President of Iran. Iranian officials said that Ahmadinejad would present new proposals to defuse suspicion over Tehran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions.

However, the Bush administration, which has classified Iran as a member of the ”axis of evil”, is determined to rally support for possible UN sanctions against Tehran for resuming sensitive work on uranium conversion.

As part of the campaign, US officials have been showing foreign diplomats an hour-long slide show that includes satellite pictures to bolster charges that Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at producing weapons, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. — AFP



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Gerard Aziakou
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