Leaders hail UN as 'indispensable' to human family

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The Independent US

Leaders from every corner of the world concluded their millennium summit in New York yesterday with a resounding pledge to reaffirm the UN as the "indispensable common house of the entire human family".

Leaders from every corner of the world concluded their millennium summit in New York yesterday with a resounding pledge to reaffirm the UN as the "indispensable common house of the entire human family".

The gathering, conceived by the secretary general, Kofi Annan, was widely hailed as a success by the participants. No ugly confrontations happened and none of the 150 heads of state and government was deposed while absent abroad. Even New York survived almost intact.

And in a series of documents, including a final summit declaration that runs to eight pages, myriad promises were made with regard to improving the lot of humankind - especially the poor and diseased - and to restoring the influence and authority of the UN itself. Promises, of course, that may not be kept.

Some shadows were cast across the optimism. Hopes that a Middle East peace treaty would emerge on the summit's margins proved misplaced. And the event opened just hours after news broke of the murder of three UN workers by a rampaging militia in West Timor.

In their declaration, the leaders undertook to halve by 2015 the number of people in the world living on less than $1 a day and, by the same date, to have put into reverse the spread of Aids.

The greatest legacy of the meeting, however, may be the promises made to restore some of the UN's lost vigour. Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, said: "This summit has amounted to a new threshold not only for the United Nations but also for international relations in general. The UN has been confirmed as the key instrument in settling regional disputes".

Commitments to reviving the body and to reforming its approach to peace-keeping are contained in the declaration and in a separate text adopted by the Security Council, which held a summit of its own on Thursday.

The council's text covered the main elements of reform. They include allowing the Council to expand its remit to take in issues like poverty and disease, described by many speakers as inextricably linked to war and abuse.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, told the meeting: "Whether it is poverty or debt or aid and development, or infectious diseases or governance and the rule of law, we need a far broader concept of how we deal with these security issues. We cannot isolate conflict from the root causes of it".

The council text put into formal language a commitment to strengthening the structure of peace-keeping in the mandates that the missions are given and the kind of equipment, training and intelligence available to the blue helmets.

Some actions of the summit fell outside any of the formal agendas. Most famous, was the unscheduled handshake between President Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro of Cuba in the midst of a crush of dignitaries at a lunch on Wednesday.

And Mr Clinton began a separate quest to seek a thaw between China and Taiwan. Mr Clinton met the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, to urge him to talk to Taiwan's new President, Chen Shui-bian, who outraged Peking this week by suggesting Taipei had other options than unification with the mainland.

Leaders also found other venues in New York to air their grievances. Thus, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe addressed a church in Harlem packed with African Americans to defend Zimbabwe's policy of farm seizures that has isolated it diplomatically. "The struggle for economic empowerment started with the land issue," he said. "This struggle has shown us that talk about fairness, fair play, justice and equality that emanates from developing countries is nonsense."