Annan UN 88 ap.
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Addressing world leaders for the last time as secretary-general, Kofi Annan painted a grim picture Tuesday of an unjust world economy, global disorder and widespread contempt for human rights, and appealed for nations and peoples to truly unite.
He said the Arab-Israeli conflict was the most potent and emotionally charged conflict in the world today.
"As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses or in dance halls, passions everywhere will be inflamed," Annan said.
The secretary-general warned that as long as the UN Security Council was unable to end the conflict and Israel's 40-year occupation by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, "respect for the United Nations will continue to decline."
As the annual General Assembly ministerial meeting got under way, the 192 UN member states faced an ambitious agenda including trying to promote Middle East peace, curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, get UN peacekeepers into the conflict-wracked Darfur region of Sudan, and promote democracy.
In a new blow to global stability, Thailand's military launched a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra even as Annan spoke. The Thai prime minister, who was in New York, switched speaking slots with Montenegro so he could address the General Assembly on Tuesday evening, a day earlier than planned.
US President George W. Bush took the podium for a speech aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States over Iraq and Lebanon. He laid out a vision for peace and assured Muslims that the US was not waging war with Islam.
"My country desires peace," Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the UN. "Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam."
On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program, and threatened consequences if they did not.
However, Bush's prepared speech was less confrontational on that subject. He said Iran "must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions," and return at once to international talks on its program. The US has threatened sanctions if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who was scheduled to speak to the body later Tuesday - was not in the hall during Bush's address.
Bush said that in the Middle East, "from Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom." And he appealed for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The world must also stand up for peace in the Holy Land," Bush said. "I'm committed to two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
I'm committed to a Palestinian state that has territorial integrity and will live peacefully with the Jewish State of Israel."
Annan, whose second five-year term ends on December 31, said the past decade had seen progress in development, security and the rule of law - the three great challenges he said humanity faced in his first address to the General Assembly in 1997.
But the secretary-general said too many people were still exposed to brutal conflict, and the fear of terrorism had increased the risk of a clash of civilizations and religions. Terrorism was being used as a pretext to limit or abolish human rights, and globalization risked driving richer and poorer peoples apart, he said.
"The events of the last 10 years have not resolved, but sharpened, the three great challenges I spoke of - an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law," Annan said. "As a result, we face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands."
"I remain convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations," he said.
As he neared the end of his speech, Annan's voice rose with emotion, describing his "difficult and challenging but at times also thrillingly rewarding" job."Together we have pushed some big rocks to the top of the mountain, even if others have slipped from our grasp and rolled back. But this mountain with its bracing winds and global views is the best place on earth to be," Annan said.
He said he would "miss the mountain" and "when all is said and done, the world's most exalting job."
"I yield my place to others with an obstinate feeling - a real obstinate feeling - of hope for our common future," Annan said, again visibly moved.
The presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, ambassadors and other diplomats in the chamber then burst into loud applause and rose to give Annan a sustained standing ovation.
Even before the start of the so-called "general debate," ministers were meeting on some of the key issues.
A Security Council meeting on Monday focused on overcoming Sudan's resistance to allowing the United Nations to take control over peacekeepers in Darfur. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas late Monday, and the Security Council was to hold a meeting Thursday that Arab leaders hope will help revive the Middle East peace process.
Shortly before coming to New York, French President Jacques Chirac proposed a compromise to kick-start talks between Iran and the international community, suggesting the threat of UN sanctions be suspended in exchange for Teheran halting its uranium enrichment program.
But the undercurrent of this year's debate will be the race to succeed Annan. The six candidates were already making appearances Monday, and many more were planned.
Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators lined up outside the UN to temper the welcome of some of this week's attendants. Mostly, demonstrators were there to protest the presence of Ahmadinejad.
Thousands of Iranian Americans rallied to support a vision of their homeland that they claim is radically opposed to the current Iranian regime. They are calling for a democratic, secular and nuclear-free Iran.
Protesters gathered here under the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition responsible for revealing the nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in August 2002. They called on the US and the international community to "free" Iran by supporting the Iranian resistance led by Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI headquartered in Paris.
"We are totally against the presence of Ahmadinejad," said one protester, Manooch Shadnia, a broadcast engineer who came from Chicago to participate in the rally. "The world is his amusement park." Shadnia is one of many here who say the international community responds "too lightly" to the situation in Iran. "They have played this game for too long," he said.
Most of the protesters here were not in favor of war with Iran, nor do they support continued "appeasement." Instead, they advocate what they refer to as the "third option," namely, supporting the opposition in Iran as a way of ousting the current regime.
"Without getting rid of the regime, the concept of combating fundamentalism in the area is a fallacy," said Majid Roshani, a protestor from Washington DC.
The first step towards regime change, protestors said, was to impose oil, arms, technological and diplomatic sanctions on Iran and to remove the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran from the terrorist list. Established in 1965, the PMOI is Iran's largest, most popular opposition group and a member party of the NCRI.
Though large numbers of Jews have still to rally behind the NCRI, some have begun doing so, according to Rabbi Daniel Zucker who spoke at Tuesday's protest.
"For a long time the Jewish community has been concerned with their own internal interests," Zucker said. "The foreign office should realize that Iranian resistance [groups] have common interests with them."
US Jewish leaders did, however, refuse to meet with the Iranian president. According to a wire report, Jewish leaders said they were invited to a dinner with Ahmadinejad by the Council of Foreign Relations.
At the UN, both Chirac and Bush before him said they would not meet with Ahmadinejad.
A pro-Israel and anti-Ahmadinejad rally is scheduled to take place Wednesday outside UN headquarters.