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Leaders Gather for U.N. Reform Meetings


More than 150 world leaders, including President Bush, convene in New York today for a summit at the United Nations. They'll discuss and approve a document outlining the UN's goals on everything from combating poverty and fighting terrorism to improving the management of the world body. A draft document was approved yesterday after intense negotiations, but it was watered down from the ambitious plan that Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward earlier this year. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.


Kofi Annan announced the agreement to reporters with a recitation of what he said was the good news, a statement on development, approval for establishing a human rights council and an acknowledgement that the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians from genocide and war crimes.

Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN (United Nations): The big item missing is non-proliferation and disarmament. This is a real disgrace. We have failed twice this year, and I hope the leaders will see this as a real signal for them to pick up the ashes and really show leadership on this important issue.

FLINTOFF: Annan acknowledged that it had been a difficult negotiation and he accused some countries of being spoilers in the process, but he said the result was a good document, something the UN can build on. He refused to accept one reporter's criticism that the talks hadn't achieved much.

Sec.-Gen. ANNAN: The forum is a process, not an event, and we are going to continue after the summit on quite a lot of the other issues. And so I don't share your assessment that it is a failure.

FLINTOFF: US negotiators, who are among the most critical of the original document, also insisted that the US is very pleased with the final draft. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said it made an important step toward the top US priority, reforming the UN's management and budget controls. Burns also praised the document's language on terrorism, saying it represented a defeat for some countries that had argued that national liberation movements should be exempted from being punished for terrorist acts.

Mr. NICHOLAS BURNS (Undersecretary, State Department): We took the position that there was no justification, there could never be a justification, for an act of terrorism, and you'll see that this document reflects that and we're very pleased by the language.

FLINTOFF: Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam International said the aid group finds little to celebrate in the document, but she did have strong praise for one thing, the document's endorsement of responsibility to protect civilians.

Ms. NICOLA REINDORP (Oxfam International): What governments have done is they have now committed to say in cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, if the national authorities involved are demonstrably failing to protect their people, the rest of the world must act in a timely and decisive way to save lives.

FLINTOFF: Kofi Annan illustrated the problems of working with a multinational body with a story of the beginning of his tenure when he was accused of not reforming the UN in his first six weeks.

Sec.-Gen. ANNAN: The Russian ambassador said, `But what are you complaining about? You've had more time than God.' And I explained to him that God had one big advantage. He worked alone without General Assembly, and Security Council and the committees.

FLINTOFF: Over the course of the next three days, world leaders have a chance to review the document's many provisions, but it's considered unlikely that they'll act to strengthen any perceived weaknesses or restore any bold initiatives.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.