UNITED NATIONS, AP -A summit billed as the largest gathering of world leaders in history achieved far less than U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had hoped in the fight to overhaul the United Nations and alleviate poverty, terrorism and human rights abuses.
After three days in which Syria was the only one of 191 member states not to give a speech before the General Assembly, the leaders adopted a 35-page document that commits their governments to achieving U.N. goals to combat poverty and creates a commission to help move countries from war to peace.
Leaders praised the document as a first step toward sweeping U.N. reform and helping the world”s poor. But just as often, they expressed disappointment at what was left out: any mention of disarmament, U.N. Security Council reform, and details of a plan to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission with a new human rights council.
"I cannot disguise our profound disappointment that we were not able to agree at this summit on all of the elements required to make it operational," Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said of the Human Rights Council at a news conference Friday.
As is often the case with such events, it was meetings on the sidelines of the summit marking the United Nations” 60th anniversary that produced the most exciting headlines.
There were rare contacts between Arab states and Israel, which won praise for its withdrawal from Gaza. Many nations signed a new treaty aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism. Iran”s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made his U.N. debut by saying Iran was willing to offer nuclear technology to other Muslim states, Iran”s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
President Bush, who two years ago questioned whether the United Nations was relevant, surprised many on Wednesday by giving the world body his strong backing. He also won praise for declaring that poverty breeds terrorism and despair and challenging world leaders to abolish all trade tariffs and subsidies to promote prosperity and opportunity in struggling nations.
The three-day summit brought presidents, prime ministers and kings from 151 member states to the United Nations — a record number according to U.N. officials.
Yet instead of adopting Annan”s sweeping blueprint to enable the world body to deal with the challenges of a new century, they were presented with a diluted 35-page document. The final document represented the lowest common denominator that all countries could agree on after months of negotiations.
Even then, Venezuela”s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez objected to the "abhorrent and anti-democratic means" used to negotiate the document, saying that too few nations had a hand in drafting it. "This organization can have nothing good awaiting it if it follows such procedures," he said.
But for the vast majority of countries the final document was welcome, because up until the eve of the summit the differences were so wide that there was no certainty there would be an agreement.
"The outcome document represents an important step in a long process of U.N. reform," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "We cannot allow the reform effort to be derailed or run out of steam."
The most significant planks in the final document are the creation of a new Peacebuilding Commission to help countries emerging from conflict and an acceptance by all governments of the collective international responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
After a year of criticism over reported corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq and allegations of bribery by U.N. purchasing officials, diplomats agreed to create an internal ethics office but they didn”t give Annan the authority he wanted to make sweeping management changes.
The original thrust of the summit was to take action to implement U.N. goals stemming from the declaration by world leaders at their last summit in 2000. They include cutting poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.
Earlier Friday, the chief of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said that the first of the Millennium Development Goals — reducing extreme hunger and poverty by half — won”t be met until 2150 unless leaders accelerate their efforts.
"The question is, what do we do?" Jacques Diouf said. "Do we let things continue or do we change?"
The summit ended on a sour note after leaders changed the last day”s schedule and adopted the document before hearing speeches from a handful of civil society and business groups.
As the clock ticked toward 10 p.m. on Friday, with the hall less than half full, new General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden apologized for making those groups wait to deliver their speeches until long after most delegations had gone.