Washington, 9 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says illegal drugs represent a threat to democracies and market economies and that the fight against narcotics is nothing less than "a struggle for human freedom."
Clinton told a United Nations-sponsored anti-drug summit in New York on Monday that drugs undermine economic and political liberties because they spread corruption, violence and money laundering. He called for a coordinated global fight against drugs.
Clinton said: "The stakes are high, for the drug empires erode the foundations of democracies, corrupt the integrity of market economies, menace the lives, the hopes, the futures of families on every continent."
The American president said the United States will launch an international educational fellowship program to combat the evils associated with drugs. He said the U.S. is prepared to spend $17 billion annually to fight illegal drugs at home and abroad.
Clinton said for the first time in history, more than half the world's people live under governments of their own choosing. He said in virtually every country there is "an expansion of expressions of individual liberty."
He said: "We cannot see it all squandered for millions of people because of a perverse combination of personal weakness and national neglect."
Clinton spoke at the beginning of a three day U.N. General Assembly anti-drug summit attended by representatives of virtually all nations, including from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, as well as Eastern and Central European states.
Clinton called on all nations -- drug producing and consuming countries -- to "extend the long arm of the law and the hand of compassion to match the global reach of this problem." He said no nations are too small to help out.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the gathering the proliferation of drugs over the past 30 years is a "previously unimaginable tragic reality for mankind."
Annan said cooperation between the nations to wipe out narcotics could lead to a drug-free world in the 21st century.
Barry McCaffrey, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference in New York that there are more than 200 million drug addicts worldwide.
McCaffrey said the United States consumes nearly one fourth of the world's cocaine production that reaches the street. But he said cocaine is now penetrating other markets more aggressively such as Europe and Russia.
The U.N. anti-drug summit is seeking to set a target date of 2008 for control on legal chemicals which can be synthesized into narcotics. It is calling on all nations to set 2003 as the target date for legislation calling for seizure of proceeds from drug trade.
The war on drugs was criticized, however, by a group of prominent U.S. citizens and others who wrote an open letter as part of a two-page advertisement that appeared in The New York Times on Monday.
The advertisement says that drug war politics in many parts of the world hurts health efforts to stem the spread of AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. The advertisement adds, "Human rights are violated, environmental assaults perpetrated and prisons inundated with hundreds of thousands of drug law violators."
Among those who signed the letter is the American businessman George Soros, who spends millions of dollars in Russia and elsewhere to help humanitarian causes. The Hungarian-born investor backs a foundation that favors legalizing certain drugs.
Asked about whether drugs should be legalized, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said in New York she is opposed to that approach because many people who were once drug abusers were motivated into treatment by the threat of punishment.
Reno said: "I think the balanced approach that includes vigorous enforcement and focus on traffickers and appropriate sanctions against users -- coupled with treatment -- can have a dramatic impact."