By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer 6 minutes ago
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday adopted a watered-down document for world leaders to approve at a U.N. summit, shedding many of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's most ambitious goals after weeks of bitter debate. The compromise 35-page document is supposed to galvanize global action to combat poverty and launch a major reform of the United Nations itself. But to reach a consensus, much of the most sweeping language in the text was gutted.
A definition of terrorism and details on how to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights will not be included. U.S.-led efforts to overhaul U.N. management have been diluted, while nuclear nonproliferation likely won't be mentioned at all.
The document will be put before world leaders at a three-day summit beginning Wednesday that will be bring together more than 160 presidents, prime ministers, kings and their entourages. It will be the largest gathering of world leaders in history.
Even so, diplomats called the document a breakthrough after so much debate. Several were pleased with the creation of a peacebuilding commission and a long section on development. That includes a mention of the desire by "many developed countries" to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national product on development aid.
"Don't expect Rome to be built in a day, it wasn't," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry said. "Against the difficulty of this negotiation, it's complexity, this is a very substantial gain."
Several nations were angry with the way the document was pushed through the General Assembly before it was translated from English into the five other official U.N. languages, a violation of U.N. protocol. That gave ambassadors little time to review it.
"This process is a clear violation of the most basic elements governing democratic processes," Venezuela's Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said from the floor after the vote.
Annan had gambled that by calling world leaders together for the summit, he could push through a list of sweeping U.N. reforms and refocus attention on the Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets for reducing poverty and disease by 2015.
But longtime national rivalries and tough negotiating tactics slowed the process. The United States weighed in with hundreds of proposed changes a few weeks ago, for which it was strongly criticized, though other nations including Russia, Pakistan and China vehemently opposed some elements.
Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric came close to scolding states working on the document when he was asked how worried Annan was about the text.
"You know, the clock continues to tick," Dujarric said. "The negotiators, I think, have left things perilously late in light of the date of the summit, which was announced well in advance."
Diplomats insisted the summit will not be an outright disaster and they would almost certainly come up with something for their leaders to adopt despite the time pressure. That could provide new impetus for later, more detailed talks on reforming the United Nations, they said.
U.N. officials and diplomats instead characterized the results of the summit as one step, not the definitive blueprint on U.N. reform that Annan had initially sought.
"It would be wrong to claim more than is realistic and accurate about what these reforms are," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "They represent steps forward, but this is not the alpha and the omega, and we never thought it would be."
Now it looks like issues that were tacked onto the summit just a few weeks ago will feature more prominently.
The U.N. Security Council is holding a rare meeting Wednesday chaired by its nations' leaders to consider resolutions on terrorism and conflict and Africa.
The failure of world leaders to adopt an ambitious plan for development and reform disappointed some non-governmental organizations.
They fear that leaving the tough decisions to the 191-member General Assembly, where even seemingly innocuous initiatives can stall for years, is the quickest way to sink Annan's agenda.
"If world leaders do nothing more than adopt a broad, vague text that defers all substantive decisions to the General Assembly, they will have squandered a historic opportunity," Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International's U.N. representative, said in a statement.
The debate over the summit has led some to question if the United Nations can be reformed at all, especially when such decisions have to be accepted by all member states .
Security Council reform, for example, has bedeviled the United Nations for more than a decade. Each time the issue surfaces, diplomats say they believe the will is there for change, and each time they fail.
"I'm very pragmatic in relation to the United Nations," Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said Tuesday. "One cannot ignore the fact that we still live in a world of nation states."