World Leaders Converge for U.N. Summit

Sept. 5, 2000 -- All the world’s problems will be put on the table for discussion at the U.N. Millennium Summit, running through Friday, as more than 150 kings,presidents and prime ministers arrive in New York.

Planning for the U.N. Millennium Summit has been in the works for two years, including hanging posters throughout New York to soothe residents navigating the inevitable traffic nightmare.

The session, from today through Friday, is billed as the largest-ever gathering of world leaders, even bigger than the world body’s 50th anniversary celebrations five years ago, which drew some 118 heads of state and government.

But this year the program is more ambitious.

As the leaders address the General Assembly for a proposed — but rarely executed — five minutes each, those not speaking are in closed round-table discussions to map out myriad programs that would help lift people out of poverty, prevent wars and save the environment.

On the sidelines and in some forums, the critical MiddleEast peace process is the subject of meetings between PresidentBill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinianleader Yasser Arafat.

However, Barak, who was one of the first leaders to arrive in New York City on Monday, warned that he will only give a Mideast peace treaty a few weeks to be concluded, raising the possibility of failure ahead of crucialtalks with President Clinton during this week’s U.N. summit.

The formal deadline for a treaty, Sept. 13, is widely expectedto be missed. Barak has said it is now up to the Palestinians to compromise,and Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Monday the prime minister is notplanning to present new ideas to President Clinton when they meet today.

Congo on Some Agendas

African leaders hope for a meeting on the Congo’s many-sided civil war, although Congo President Laurent Kabila will be nowhere in sight. In Sierra Leone, rebels are fighting the government as well as U.N. peacekeepers.

A new president, Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, elected a week ago, will fill Somalia’s U.N. seat for the first time in a decade.

In preparation for the meeting, Annan called in an April report for benevolent globalization in the 21st century to ensure that the information revolution did not leave billions of people behind in poverty.

When the summit meeting ends, there are to be commitments to ambitious global targets. World leaders will pledge to halve the number of the world’s people who live on less than $1 a day. There are more than a billion such people.

Almost an equal number — many of them the same ones — donot have access to clean water. Their number should also be cutin half by 2015, leaders will say. By that year too, a primaryschool education should be provided to all boys and girls.

The leaders will also be asked to halt and reverse thespread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.

Getting Past Talk?

With every issue on the table, many are asking whetheranything but vague statements can result despite the specifictargets Annan has proposed.

“I would expect the summit to come up with a program ofaction not just for the United Nations but also for the membersstates,” Annan told the Royal Institute of InternationalAffairs in London via an audio link on Monday.

“Yes, we have a major problems, so let’s solve themtogether,” he said.

Issuing a stark warning to member states that they were not doing enough to back the organization’s peacekeeping role in trouble spots around the globe, Annan signaled that this week’s Millennium Summit would be“no celebration” for the United Nation’s track record.

“It sometimes seems as if it is when the fire breaks out webegin to think of building a fire house,” he said. “When we have the capacity to do good we should muster the will to act,” he said.

Mini-summits Planned

Within the summit, a series of mini-summits is planned.Leaders representing the 15 countries on the Security Councilwill discuss peacekeeping, especially in Africa, and a recentblue-ribbon panel report on how to recruit better-trained andmore professional troops.

Leaders of the five countries that are permanent councilmembers are likely to meet separately: Clinton, RussianPresident Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac,British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese President JiangZemin.

In addition, more than 700 one-on-one meetings betweenleaders are expected, with the United Nations setting upcubicles for those not meeting at hotels around town.

Those Not on the Guest List...

Not joining the limousine-and-sirens fest is IraqiPresident Saddam Hussein, who has not left his country for atleast a decade.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi also has not said he isattending, and Kim Jong-il of North Korea has declined. ButCuban President Fidel Castro, who came to the 1995 U.N.anniversary celebration, has decided to come.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, under indictment bya U.N. tribunal for war crimes in Kosovo, will not be in NewYork.

Afghanistan’s ruler, Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid, was notinvited because somebody else is sitting in his chair.Burhanuddin Rabbani, the president driven out of Kabul and intoexile in 1996, is speaking because the Taliban government isnot recognized by the United Nations.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.