New York, 21 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations General Assembly opens its annual debate today with a speech by U.S. President Bill Clinton in which he is expected to urge world leaders to step up the fight against international terrorism.
White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says the problem of terrorism is at or near the top of the U.S. agenda following last month's U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. Berger says Clinton will note that with the spread of information technology and the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, "the technology of terror has become more lethal and more available."
Berger says Clinton wants to make it clear to the international community that the fight against terrorism is not a clash of civilizations or cultures.
He says: "The dividing line is between those who practice, support and tolerate terror and those who understand that terrorism is plain and simple murder."
The problem of terrorism gained prominence with the near-simultaneous bombings Aug. 7 at U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 247 people. U.S. officials say Clinton is also expected to discuss the fighting in Kosovo. Last week at a joint news conference with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Clinton called on Serbia to restore autonomy to Kosovo, a largely ethnic Albanian province.
Clinton's speech will be followed today by South African President Nelson Mandela, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
It is the first time in 12 years that Iran has been represented at the head of state level at the General Assembly.
Diplomats will be watching closely whether the Iranian leader will signal a desire of reopening relations with the United States.
Before leaving for New York, Khatami told Iranian television that he will bring up the fighting in Afghanistan between Taliban forces and opposition groups. He said a "human disaster" is unfolding in Afghanistan.
News reports say Khatami has no plans to meet any U.S. officials. Reports of a possible one-on-one meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was also denied by the Iranian foreign ministry.
However, the two are scheduled to meet at the so-called 6-plus-2 session of the six countries neighboring Afghanistan - China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - plus the United States and Russia.
It would be the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution that officials of the United States and Iran will sit at one table. The session is to discuss the Afghan crisis and Iranian-Afghan tensions, which were intensified with the killing of a group of Iranian diplomats in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.