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US will `not step back' from helping world poor

The US Vice-President, Al Gore, yesterday underlined the Clinton administration's determination to resist big budget cuts for the poor at home and disengagement abroad as the World Summit for Social Development reached its closing stages in Copenhagen.

The question of how to realise the potential of the uneducated and unemployed, he said, was the subject of "an intense political struggle" at home. What was being tested was whether the US would "turn away from our own most disadvantaged" and "step back from the front ranks" of those helping the world's disadvantaged to climb by their own efforts out of degradation and despair.

"I believe at the end of the day, the United States will not step back," he said. The administration's "commitment to remain engaged" would be supported by Americans.

Speaking at a poverty summit where the US delegation has resisted every call for more aid, knowing Congress wants cuts, not growth, in the budget, Mr Gore did not make the overt attack expected on UN bureaucracy. But he stressed that "new structures" were needed to replace the "inflexibility and expense" of the massive old-style bureaucracies used to combat poverty. He announced that more US aid will now be targeted through NGOs, the non- governmental organisations that have increasingly emerged as the summit's favoured tool.

As the clock registering the numbers born into absolute poverty during the week-long summit stopped at 598,070, the final message, with its goals of eradicating poverty and seeking full employment, was seen by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, many developing countries and NGOs as setting a limit to the full play of the free market.

There was widespread acknowledgement that many structural adjustment programmes have harmed the poor and that investment in education and health must be protected if countries are to be able to help themselves. But Western leaders repeatedly stressed free trade and free markets.

Mr Gore said they were the only way to "permanent gains", Baroness Chalker, the Overseas Aid Minister, said they were the key to global prosperity and poverty alleviation, while Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany underlined that "we must rid ourselves of the misconception that social progress can be bought with money alone".

The lack of hard commitments to extra aid and reduced debt, rather than just the re-ordering of often shrinking aid budgets, has angered developing countries. Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, told the summit: "We move from one major conference to another, pronouncing with lofty intention global programmes, but we have never satisfactorily made available the means of implementation."

Fidel Castro won little more than polite applause when he attacked the "anarchy and chaos" produced under the "cruel laws of the market". Nelson Mandela was given a vastly warmer reception when he told the plenary session that "we in South Africa have learnt through bitter experience that security for a few is in fact insecurity for all".

Just hot air? page 15