UN must play central role in fight against terrorism, Putin says

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations must shift its focus from just settling disputes between states to coordinating the world’s fight against terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the second day of a UN summit Thursday.

Echoing remarks by Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush the day before, Putin told the UN General Assembly that terrorism was the primary threat to human rights and economic development.

“There is a need to adjust this organisation to the new historical reality,” Putin said. “Who else will take the role of coordinating and organising this work but the United Nations?” The three-day summit was meant to focus on UN reform and world poverty 60 years after the founding of the United Nations, but the fight against terrorism has become a central focus. Several leaders have used their allotted five-minute speeches to dwell on the new challenges that fight presents, while attacks in the Russian city of Beslan, New York, London, Baghdad and elsewhere have been mentioned frequently.

Putin said the United Nations needs to adapt to meet those new goals, but he spoke far more favourably about the world body than some of his predecessors at the rostrum.

“If member countries want the United Nations to be respected and effective, they should begin by making sure it is worthy of respect,” Bush told the summit on Wednesday.

“The United Nations should live up to its name,” Blair added.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had set the tone on Wednesday, when he said bitter differences between member states have blocked many crucial United Nations reforms, and nations must act boldly to restore the world body’s credibility.

Coming into the summit, diplomats had to dilute a document on goals for tackling rights abuses, terrorism and UN reform because they couldn’t settle their disputes.

One of the big disappointments was that the document did not include a definition of terrorism as Annan had wanted, though it includes a promise to work on a comprehensive treaty against terrorism in the coming months.

Addressing the summit that he called a year ago in hopes of winning approval for an ambitious blueprint to modernise the United Nations on its 60th anniversary, Annan told more than 150 presidents, prime ministers and kings that “a good start” had been made with the document.

But he also said leaders must “be frank with each other, and the peoples of the United Nations. We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required.” The summit began a week after investigators criticised alleged corruption and UN mismanagement of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and on a day when more than 160 people died in attacks in Baghdad — a harsh reminder of the fight against terrorism that was highlighted in President George W. Bush’s speech.

A key goal of the summit is to take action to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight targets meant to reduce global poverty and disease by 2015.

The leader of the Netherlands challenged other rich nations to join the handful of countries that have committed to meeting the millennium goal of setting aside 0.7 per cent of their gross national product for overseas development aid. The United States strongly opposes the target.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said there is only a slim chance of meeting the millennium goals.

“The shortfalls are serious. Nothing less than an extra 50 to $60 billion must be raised every year” to achieve the millennium goals, he told the UN World Summit.

In his speech, Bush broadened the terrorism fight beyond the military arena, saying world leaders have “a solemn obligation” to stop terrorism in its early stages.

Declaring that poverty breeds despair and terrorism, he challenged leaders to abolish all trade tariffs and subsidies to promote prosperity and opportunity in poor nations, a move that would be worth billions of dollars.

“Either hope will spread, or violence will spread, and we must take the side of hope,” he said.

This approach — and Bush’s support for achieving development goals such as halving extreme poverty by 2015 — was welcomed by many leaders.

Irish rocker Bob Geldof, who organised the Live Aid concerts and campaigns against poverty, said he was sitting in the General Assembly chamber with UN anti-poverty chief Jeffrey Sachs and they couldn’t believe what they heard.

“I think he’s really throwing down the gauntlet. It’s a very bold move,” Geldof said of Bush’s trade tariff proposal, adding that he was impressed with the president’s acknowledgement that terrorism “comes from despair and lack of hope.” And while diplomats could not agree on reforming the long-outdated UN Security Council despite Annan’s urgings, several nations made clear they won’t back down on their demand for change.

Even so, they displayed some of the national rivalries that have blocked expansion so far. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun made a veiled reference to Japan’s ambition for a permanent seat on the council in telling the assembly that council reform must proceed democratically.

“Let me stress that any reform plan we arrive at should serve to facilitate harmony among nations, rather than presage another variant of great power politics,” he said.

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