Because of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., the opening of the United Nations' General Assembly was delayed by seven weeks. When it did finally open over the weekend, the focus was, understandably, on terrorism. Many speakers spoke out in support of the U.S.-led war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But several said the campaign should be broadened to eliminate the roots of the problem.
New York, 12 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Government leaders from around the world began the seven-day opening of the United Nations' General Assembly with nearly unanimous support for the U.S.-led campaign to end international terrorism.
But some leaders -- including many heads of government and heads of state -- added their opinions about how the campaign should be conducted, and whether it should include helping poorer nations eradicate what they said is the cause of terrorism: human suffering brought on by poverty, illiteracy, injustice, and intolerance.
And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the gathering on 10 November by saying the focus on terrorism should not distract the world body from a similar commitment that its members made a year ago at the Millennium Summit.
Annan began his address by noting that this year's meeting was postponed by seven weeks because of the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. And he said all UN members should take part in the response to these acts:
"One is tempted to say that we must now focus all our energies on the struggle against terrorism and on directly related issues. Yet if we should do so we will be giving the terrorists a victory of a kind. Let us remember that none of the issues that faced us on September 10th has become less urgent."
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke a few minutes later. He has stated repeatedly that his administration in Washington is focused on the war against terrorism, and his address on 10 November was equally single-minded. He called on UN members to unite against groups who prey on civilians, and to be equally harsh with the governments that harbor them:
"For every regime that sponsors terror, there is a price to be paid, and it will be paid. The allies of terror are equally guilty of murder and equally accountable to justice. The Taliban are now learning this lesson. That regime and the terrorists it's supporting are now virtually indistinguishable."
Bush also said that to make the campaign against terrorism the world's top priority would be a benefit to all the peoples of the world, today and in the future:
"We have a chance to write the story of our times, a story of courage defeating cruelty and light overcoming darkness. This call is worthy of any life and worthy of every nation. So let us go forward, confident, determined, and unafraid."
After Bush, speaker after speaker on 10-11 November rose to offer condolences and sympathy to Bush and the American people. And many said they support the war the U.S. and its allies are waging in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
But several of the leaders said military action is not enough. They said it may eliminate Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of conceiving the attacks against America, and even his Al-Qaeda organization. But they stressed that there are other terrorists in the world, with different agendas, and they must be stopped, too.
Some of these speakers said terrorism will persist unless its causes are wiped out. One, Stipe Mesic, the president of Croatia, said yesterday that it will be necessary to "change the world completely," as he put it, to eradicate the conditions that breed despair, extremism and, ultimately, terrorism.
Mesic said such thinking is not utopian or overly ambitious. It merely requires a global strategy to wipe out poverty, illiteracy, injustice, and intolerance -- and the courage to act on this strategy.
A different approach was taken by Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, who addressed the General Assembly on 10 November. Pakistan shares a long border with Afghanistan, and Musharraf has given the U.S. valuable help in mounting air and land attacks in Afghanistan.
Musharraf was not reluctant to deliver pointed criticism of the way the war was being waged. He said the U.S. approach appears to be weighted too much on military action and not enough on who will rule Afghanistan after the Taliban is ousted, and what kind of help will be available for the Afghan people, who have suffered through two decades of war:
"There are three parallel strategies that are involved: the military strategy, the political strategy, and the rehabilitation-cum-reconstruction strategy. Whereas the military strategy is under application, there is no sign of the political and rehabilitation strategy."
Musharraf also mentioned a long-standing problem that his country has faced -- the dispute with India over which country should control Kashmir:
"A just and honorable solution for the people of Kashmir, an end to the miseries of the people of Palestine, are the major burning issues that have to be addressed vigorously, boldly, imaginatively, and, may I say, urgently."
Musharraf was not the only leader to discuss the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians during a gathering that seemed otherwise devoted to terrorism. Several speakers called for a renewed effort to resume the peace process. Israel is not scheduled to speak until 15 November. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat spoke of his people's hope for a sovereign homeland on 11 November.
Arafat accused Israel of mounting attacks of "state terrorism," using advanced weaponry against civilians, many of whom are armed only with rocks. He said he had hoped during last year's Millennium Summit that the time was right for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yesterday he said he is still waiting.
Recently, the U.S. government has made it known that it was prepared to begin working for a Palestinian homeland in late summer, but those plans were put off by the 11 September attacks. And Bush refused to meet with Arafat while both were at the UN. Bush's aides say he believes Arafat has not done enough to stop the violence by Palestinians.
Still, the Bush administration has not forgotten the Middle East peace process. In his address to the UN, Bush used the term "Palestine." This is seen as a step toward realizing Palestinians' hopes because until then, all American government officials had referred only to a putative "Palestinian state."
Yesterday, on American television (NBC's "Meet the Press"), U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the president was speaking deliberately when he spoke of Palestine. He said that the American government envisions the states of Israel and Palestine existing as neighbors in the foreseeable future, so it is only natural to call both states by their names.