Blair to take lead in Security Council drive against terror

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Diplomats were confident that the British-sponsored text would be adopted by a special session of the Security Council to be held on the fringes of the UN Summit of more than 175 world leaders, which opens here tomorrow.

Its adoption is likely to be overshadowed, however, by the summit itself, which last night appeared to be heading towards confusion if not outright collapse.

The passing of the resolution will nevertheless be important to the British Government as it presses for tighter counter-terrorism action around the world. The British seat at the Security Council table will be taken by the Prime Minister. Several other leaders will join him, possibly including George Bush.

The final draft of the text, which was seen by The Independent yesterday, calls on all UN states to take steps to "prohibit by law incitement to commit a terrorism act or acts". Governments will also be committed to "deny safe haven to any persons with respect to whom there is credible and relevant information giving serious reasons for considering that they have been guilty of such conduct".

Last night, a core group of ambassadors were struggling to overcome lingering differences and to finalise a document of pledges, promises and lofty goals for world leaders to adopt when their summit ends on Friday.

Many of those leaders have already started to arrive in New York. Mr Blair will fly in today and address the summit tomorrow.

"They are still pounding their way through the whole agenda," one Western source reported.

There was some hope that a summit document would emerge overnight. But it is likely to be a pale version of the programme of reform that the secretary general, Kofi Annan, first hoped for from the meeting.

Some watering down is inevitable in several areas where strong differences remain. Those include terrorism, where Europe and the US remain hopelessly at odds with Pakistan and most Arab governments. The latter will accept a broad condemnation of terrorism this week, but only if an exemption is granted wherever people are fighting against illegal occupation - a caveat Britain will not accept.

Negotiators are also tangled over Mr Annan's call for the creation of a new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

The proposal has been opposed by several developing countries which in recent days seem to have won the support of China.

"There is no question that what we will get from the summit will not live up to its billing," one European diplomat conceded last night. But he scoffed at talk of the summit heading for collapse. "We will get a document that is good in parts and commits us to keep working in other areas."

A messy end to the summit will be a disappointment to Britain, which has been outspoken in offering support to Mr Annan, in spite of the embarrassment of last week's Volcker report on corruption in the oil-for-food programme.