Bahai News - U.N. Millennium Summit Opens 06:44 PM ET 09/06/00

U.N. Millennium Summit Opens

Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The world laid out its hopes for the third millennium Wednesday at an extraordinary convocation of leaders great and obscure, with President Clinton pleading for help in bringing peace to the Middle East before it is too late.

About 150 world leaders _ the greatest assembly of presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and other rulers in history _ listened as Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an international conference to outlaw the militarization of space.

And they heard Cuban President Fidel Castro, viewed by many developing countries as their premiere spokesman, decry the poverty that he says afflicts 80 percent of the world's 6 billion people and accuse three dozen wealthy nations _ especially the United States _ of using their power ``to make us poorer, more exploited and more dependent.''

The leaders observed a moment of silence to remember U.N. workers slain when their headquarters was overrun by rioters in Indonesian-controlled West Timor, then launched a three-day marathon of speeches and negotiations on the world's most vexing problems. Outside the hall, New York's streets gave an alternative podium to commoners.

In the largest demonstration, about 2,000 followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement marched from China's U.N. mission to the United Nations, protesting Beijing's crackdown against the sect. There were others who protested slavery in Sudan, and still others who objected to the Mideast peace process.

Israel and its adversaries ``have the chance to do it, but like all life's chances, it is fleeting and about to pass,'' Clinton told the U.N. Millennium Summit.

On the sidelines of the conference, the statesmen were meeting privately _ Clinton with Putin and with the parties in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak with French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, and many more.

Privately and publicly, they exchanged advice and warnings on Mideast peace, disarmament, access to new technology, and above all, giving billions of the world's poor a better life.

The morning started with a lemming-like migration of motorcades to Manhattan's East Side, a traffic-strangling stream that tried New Yorkers' patience.

``If you wanna be the capital of the world, you deal with it,'' said Merton Alexander, 71, as he strolled through his East Side neighborhood. ``It means a little more walking for me, but that's OK.''

The leaders were in a festive mood _ they kissed and shook hands and smiled, milling about and drinking orange juice. The summit started nearly a half-hour late.

``The new millennium is an opportune time, as any, for a fresh start,'' said the president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. ``The gap between expectation and result must be eliminated.''

The start of the meeting was overshadowed by a reminder of the United Nations' very real difficulties in a world in which violence is never far from the surface: a moment of silence in memory of U.N. aid workers killed in West Timor.

``The problems seem huge,'' said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, listing poverty, AIDS, wars and environmental degradation. ``But in today's world, given the technology and the resources around, we have the means to tackle them. If we have the will, we can deal with them.''

Said Clinton: ``There are assembled here more people with the power to create peace than have ever gathered together in one place in the history of the world. Can we seize this moment?''

He strongly backed Annan's controversial call for the international community to intervene to protect civilians from ethnically based terror and other gross human rights abuses _ overriding national sovereignty if necessary.

Much of Clinton's day was devoted to the Middle East. He held back-to-back meetings with Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat said his side had agreed to share Jerusalem, ``eliminate barriers and borders therein, in contrast to attempts at monopolizing it.''

He called the city ``the cradle of Christ and the site of Prophet Mohammed's ascension to heaven,'' making no mention of Jews' attachment to the city for more than 2,000 years.

Barak, in turn, asked Arafat to join him in making painful concessions for peace. ``We are at the Rubicon and no one of us can cross it alone,'' Barak said. Arafat listened impassively.

In his speech, Putin referred indirectly to U.S. proposals to create a national missile defense system, citing the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which must be amended if Washington is to go ahead with the program.

``The new century of the United Nations must ... go down in history as a period of real disarmament,'' Putin said.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin called for the world's nations to commit themselves to living in peace and building common security.

``The Cold War mentality must be abandoned once and for all,'' Jiang declared. ``And a new security concept based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation should be established.''

Castro said the current underdevelopment and poverty in the world are the result of ``conquest, colonization, slavery and ... imperialism.'' And he declared that those responsible have a moral obligation ``to compensate our nations for the damages caused throughout centuries.''

Toasting the historic and record-breaking gathering at a lavish luncheon, Annan challenged the assembly to take ``that first and decisive step'' on a new journey to transform the lives of the world's people.

``As we break a new record, I trust we will not sound to the world like a broken record, stuck in the same groove,'' the secretary-general said. ``I hope this unprecedented assembly of leaders will also set a new record in leadership.''

©Copyright 2000, Associated Press

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