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World: Annual UN General Assembly Opens

New York, 20 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders from all over the world will converge on New York today as the 54th annual United Nations General Assembly gets under way in earnest.

RFE/RL's correspondent in New York reports leaders from the nearly 200 member nations will be delivering speeches on matters most pressing to them. Among the first to the podium will be Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

But before that, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will deliver the opening address. As it is the last General Assembly of the 20th century, much attention will likely be paid to prospects for human security and intervention in the next century. As such, Kosovo, East Timor, and Iraq could feature high on the agenda.

Late last week, the General Assembly decided to include six new items as part of its consideration this year. They include cooperation between the United Nations and the preparatory commission for the comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty organization, granting of observer status in the Assembly for the Black Sea Economic cooperation Organization, and financing of the United Nations Mission in East Timor.

On a related note, the Secretary General also is to release his report on the UN interim administration mission in Kosovo as early as today.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in New York yesterday and scheduled dinner talks with the new US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke. Albright has a whirlwind schedule of events in the days ahead, ranging from bilateral negotiations to normal diplomatic courtesy calls. She will also meet her counterparts directly, including -- among others -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

U.S. President Bill Clinton travels to New York tomorrow morning and will address the Assembly that day. Aside from the scheduled bilateral meetings, the president also will pay customary courtesy calls on Secretary General Annan and the new President of the Assembly.

Namibian Foreign Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab is holding the presidential honor this year. In his first official remarks, Gurirab said his top priority for the last General Assembly session before the new millennium was to increase awareness of the risks facing children today. He said of particular concern are the increasing number of children being recruited as soldiers.

Back in Washington, the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, David Welch, said the United States aims first and foremost to reinvigorate the U.S. relationship with the United Nations. Welch briefed reporters late last week in advance of the upcoming assembly.

The U.S.-UN relationship soured with the long looming membership debt owed by the United States, which at more than one thousand million dollars in arrears -- is the biggest debtor to the UN.

Our correspondent reports Welch also said the United States believes it is important for the General Assembly to recognize the new and positive environment in the Middle East peace process, in particular by reaching agreement on a positive resolution on the Middle East.

Welch noted that the General Assembly typically has a large, if not ambitious agenda, of some 170 items. Still, he said the United States will attempt to put forward other concerns, namely on disarmament, terrorism, human rights, and budget and reform.