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UN: Historic Summit Ends With Huge Promises

  • Andrew Tully

The United Nations has concluded the largest gathering of national leaders in history. They ended their Millennium Summit with a promise to make unprecedented progress in solving the world's problems by 2015. And each leader was given five minutes to address the UN General Assembly. Their speeches ranged from discussions of regional problems to ways to reform the world body. RFE/RL senior correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

United Nations, 11 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations ended its historic gathering of more than 150 heads of state and government with extravagant promises.

The world leaders gave their governments 15 years to help the UN stop the AIDS epidemic, give every child on Earth the opportunity of at least a primary education, severely reduce pollution of the environment, and reduce by half the number of people living in abject poverty.

The Millennium Declaration, signed Friday, concluded the three-day summit at UN headquarters in New York. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan convened the Millennium Summit to elicit the suggestions of the many leaders about how to improve security, reduce poverty, and improve human rights around the world.

Each leader attending the summit -- or, in a very few cases, a representative -- had five minutes at the marble rostrum before the General Assembly. And while many speakers focused on local and regional issues in his address, most also addressed global issues or argued that local issues have global effects.

For instance, the presidents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan told the assembly on Friday that 20 years of warfare in neighboring Afghanistan threaten not only Central and South Asia, but also the world. They said the country is a training ground for international terrorists and religious extremists, as well as a source of heroin that is exported -- through its Central Asian neighbors -- to countries worldwide.

This assessment was shared by Burhanuddin Rabbani, the president of the recognized government of Afghanistan. The country is now controlled by the Taliban, an armed force that rules Afghanistan as a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Many of the speakers also spoke in support of giving the UN greater authority -- and military might -- in its peacekeeping operations. Some -- notably the presidents of Estonia and Latvia -- said they are relinquishing the discount in dues for UN peacekeeping operations that is offered to transitional nations.

Not all the speakers spoke warmly of UN peacekeeping, however. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the president of Belarus, complained that the UN often interferes in the internal affairs of nations that do not adhere to Western standards.

Many speakers also endorsed a proposal to expand the UN Security Council to make it more representative of the organization's 189 members. And several spoke out against the veto power enjoyed by the five permanent members of the UN -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States. There also were calls for Germany and Japan to be given permanent status on the Security Council. These speakers cited the two nations' deep involvement in all UN matters and their great financial support of the organization's humanitarian programs.

The summit also provided opportunities for leaders to hold bilateral talks. For example, U.S. President Bill Clinton met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority. But the American leader did not succeed in brokering a breakthrough in the stalled Middle East peace process.

Clinton also had a brief encounter with Fidel Castro, president of the U.S.'s small archenemy, Cuba. The two exchanged a few words and even shook hands. But the meeting ultimately amounted to nothing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also had a busy schedule. He met with many leaders, including Castro, Barak, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He even joked with them, telling Blair that his speech "woke me up."

On Friday, Putin attended a signing ceremony at the Russian Mission to the UN for loan guarantees by the U.S. Export-Import Bank to the Tyumen Oil Co. of Russia.

Security was extremely tight throughout the week. Large trucks, their beds loaded with sand, blocked the avenue in front of UN headquarters. Within a half-kilometer of the UN complex, police barricades either blocked pedestrian traffic or severely restricted it.

These precautions were taken not only to deter terrorists at the largest gathering of national leaders in history. The UN and the government of New York City also wanted to avoid a recurrence of the crippling protests at the World Trade Organization last December in Seattle and the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last April in Washington.

This time, however, mass demonstrations did not materialize.
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