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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Terror War Leads U.S. to Embrace U.N.

November 10, 2001|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — When President Bush takes the podium at the United Nations today, his appearance will spotlight not just the U.S. war on terrorism but the profoundly changed relationship between the U.N. and its host government.

The meeting of the General Assembly marks Bush's debut before the world body, and it is by far the biggest gathering of world leaders since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And while the president will be trying to rally support for the campaign in Afghanistan, he will also be appealing to the General Assembly as the collective leadership of an institution that Washington has decided it urgently needs.

"The Bush administration has found it useful to have the U.N. around," said Bruce Russett, director of the Yale University program for U.N. studies.

There is an unusual and perhaps ephemeral sense of common cause between the United States and the United Nations at this tense international moment, with Osama bin Laden denouncing Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a "criminal" and U.N. employees and envoys fearing that their institution could itself become a target of terrorist attacks.

At the top of the General Assembly's agenda for the weeklong gathering is the politically fraught effort to pass an overarching U.N. accord on terrorism, which proponents hope would clearly criminalize all direct or indirect involvement in random attacks against civilians.

"After the 11th of September, I think all nations are rethinking their security policies, and the secretary-general has sensed a keener intent on the part of almost all countries to work closely together," Annan spokesman Fred Eckhard said Thursday.

The United States is now relying on U.N. assistance in a crackdown on money-laundering by accused terrorist organizations, and--in the biggest immediate challenge--the preparations for a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

For a Republican administration that includes officials who once warned against entwining U.S. and U.N. policy interests, the collaboration is striking.

"I think there is a permanent shift," said Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy advisor to President Clinton who served in the U.S. mission to the United Nations in the final two years of the administration. "Sept. 11 forced them to abandon their campaign rhetoric and deal with the real world."

From the beginning, the U.N. reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks was swift and unambiguous, with vehement condemnations from Annan and the 15-member Security Council. The council's permanent members--China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States--shared a sense that all their interests were threatened by Bin Laden's brand of radical Islamic terrorism, experienced observers said.

"All five of these powerful nation-states have a common interest in combating this, both domestically and internationally," said William Luers, a former U.S. diplomat who runs the U.S. chapter of the private United Nations Assn. "Since the U.N. was founded, there has never been anything quite like it."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who was confirmed by the Senate and presented his credentials to the United Nations just days after the terrorist attacks, quickly secured unanimous Security Council support for concerted action against Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Congress responded by speeding up promised appropriations for late U.N. dues payments. On Monday, Bush signed a bill authorizing the second of three arrears payments.

The United States is now up to date on its promised commitments and will have provided a record $1.5 billion to the U.N. Secretariat this year, U.S. officials said. Washington is also stepping up support for some of the separately funded budgets of U.N. agencies. The World Food Program, which is distributing emergency aid supplies in Afghanistan, has received more than $1.1 billion from Washington this year, the largest U.S. government contribution to an international agency in a single year, the State Department reported.

Although the focus on Afghanistan and terrorism has pushed other U.N. issues to the sidelines, Bush's new embrace of multilateralism shouldn't be limited to the battle against Bin Laden, Luers said.

"If he comes tomorrow and says to the U.N. that this is only about terrorism, overlooking other areas like AIDS and development and global warming, that is a real problem," he said. "We need to say, 'This is our agenda, and we want you to join us in this, and we will join you in your agenda.' "

Broad support for U.S. anti-terrorism initiatives at the United Nations also is contingent on a perception that Washington is pushing seriously for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, diplomats here said.

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