Appeals for more effective peacekeeping and peacemaking dominated yesterday's opening of the UN's Millennium Summit. Today, the heads of state of the UN's powerful Security Council will get a chance to put their pledges into practice. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 7 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the world's most powerful nations have begun the UN's Millennium Summit with appeals for more effective measures at preventing conflict. Today, they will meet in small groups to try to agree on specific measures.
The leaders of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France will meet twice today, first with the other 10 members of the Security Council and later among themselves as the council's five permanent members.
All of them addressed the General Assembly yesterday (Wednesday), with U.S. President Bill Clinton using the occasion to appeal for a breakthrough in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He spent much of yesterday afternoon meeting Middle East leaders, including the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian leader.
Clinton's speech also expanded his appeal by noting the trend toward internal conflicts in the past decade. He said the parties to such conflicts must be willing to compromise for the cause of peace.
"That will require us to develop greater sensitivity to our diverse political, cultural and religious claims, but it will require us to develop even greater respect for our common humanity."
In a symbolic move, Clinton stayed to listen to the speech of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who is considered a reform-minded cleric in the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin focused on nuclear disarmament in his speech. He stressed the importance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, treaty and expressed alarm at what he called "plans for the militarization of outer space." That was a reference to the U.S. plans for a national missile defense shield, to which Russia has objected.
Putin and Clinton later met at a New York hotel, but failed to reach any progress on the U.S. proposal to amend the ABM treaty. But they did sign a statement on strategic stability cooperation. The statement pledges to uphold the principles of disarmament pacts and to implement them more quickly.
The two leaders also share concerns over terrorism, another theme expected to be discussed at today's Security Council sessions. Putin's speech highlighted Russia's concerns over terrorism, which it has blamed on Chechen militants and radical Islamic supporters of Chechnya.
"We consider terrorism to be the most dangerous and treacherous phenomenon. It is unscrupulous in its the means and is rather skillful in changing its masks. But it survives only when it has a chance to undermine the stability of a state, to sow the seeds of mutual suspicion and animosity. Our common task is to raise an efficient barrier against this evil."
At their meeting, Clinton and Putin also discussed prospects for democracy in the Balkans, Iraq's defiance of UN weapons inspections and the transfer of Russian nuclear technology to Iran.
Some of those issues are likely to be raised at today's Security Council meetings. Reform of UN peacekeeping is expected to be a major focus of the meetings. Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday called for more robust UN peacekeeping which is recommended in a recent report by independent experts. Blair recommended giving a 12-month deadline to carry out main aspects of the report.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were among other leaders supporting a modernization of UN peacekeeping. But other speakers at the opening summit session criticized the current power base in the world, saying it has failed to address long-time problems. Iranian President Khatami called for a reform of the international power structure that would bring it closer to the collective will of the world's diverse cultures.
Cuban President Fidel Castro was more blunt, saying "radical" reform is needed on the Security Council. And he said the new global economic order was simply a new version of an old system in which a small group of countries control the world economy and dominate the United Nations.
For Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the current power structure was also a source of concern. Lukashenka's government has faced Western criticism for suppressing political opponents, and some monitoring bodies have already called the upcoming parliamentary elections there unfair.
"Lately, efforts have been made to create a sort of a club of the chosen, which excludes the majority of the world's nations. This arrogant attempt to divide the peoples in 'teachers' and 'pupils' can do no good for the real encouragement of democracy and human rights."
The ultimate success of the summit may come from the results of numerous bilateral meetings that have already taken place. In addition to the Clinton-Putin and Mideast talks yesterday, a group of leaders from the states known as GUUAM met and agreed to formalize their partnership. The presidents of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova pledged to meet once a year to discuss common concerns.
Today the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia are due to hold bilateral talks as well, part of an ongoing effort to resolve differences related to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.