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Powell Is Jeered at World Summit

Africa: Environmental activists criticize U.S. resistance to specific targets and timetables, and Bush's decision not to attend the conference.

September 05, 2002|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Interrupted by jeers, boos and chants of "shame on Bush," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Wednesday gamely attempted to defend U.S. programs to reduce global warming and help the world's poor.

The disruption came during the final day of a U.N. summit on development here and was the noisiest protest inside the convention hall during the 10-day conference. The commotion, started by environmental activists, spread into the ranks of delegates, who were frustrated by President Bush's decisions to withdraw from an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases and to not attend the gathering of world leaders.

"Thank you, I have now heard you. I ask that you hear me," Powell said, breaking off from his prepared speech.

South Africa's foreign minister banged her gavel, trying to bring the crowd under control. U.N. police hustled half a dozen protesters in suits and ties out of the main convention hall.

"Please, can we continue our meeting?" asked Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma. "This behavior is totally unacceptable."

U.N. officials said the outburst illustrated how what they called the Bush administration's go-it-alone policies on the environment are viewed as out of step with much of the world.

T-shirts showed up at the gathering with the printed question: "What are we going to do about the United States?"

The head of the British delegation, America's closest ally, issued a statement pleading for international comity. "How can we ever persuade the U.S. to act more multilaterally if whatever they do is attacked?" asked Margaret Beckett, Britain's lead delegate. "Nations are like people. They react better to the carrot of approval than to the stick of abuse."

The protest was a noisy distraction on a busy concluding day of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which the United Nations sponsored to bring together more than 100 heads of state and government to tackle twin issues of reducing poverty while protecting the environment.

Late Wednesday evening, exhausted delegates quit their quibbling over language and gave their blessing to a political declaration and a 65-page implementation plan that contains hundreds of goals and recommendations.

Many of the goals focus on reducing poverty and human suffering by providing clean water, sanitation and energy to some of the poorest regions of the world. Others aim to phase out cancer-causing chemicals, reduce fossil fuel emissions responsible for global warming or slow the number of species lost to extinction.

Environmental and human relief organizations on Wednesday piled on complaints that the plan doesn't go far enough.

"We were very disappointed in the outcome of the summit," said Paul Joffe, international affairs director of the National Wildlife Federation. "It's a sad commentary on the lack of leadership, compared to previous generations."

Although U.N. officials were pleased that the summit elevated key issues, even Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that expectations were perhaps too high. "We didn't get everything we wanted," he said.

The United Nations sponsored the summit here a decade after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio gathering was widely credited for focusing the world's attention on pressing environmental and poverty matters. But many have been disappointed that so little progress has been made since 1992.

The Johannesburg summit was called to set up a plan to implement the many goals outlined at Rio. Environmental groups and delegates in Europe pushed for specific targets and timetables as performance measures to keep governments on track.

But the U.S. delegation successfully resisted some of those targets, saying the Bush administration would prefer to see action on existing goals before setting new ones.

In lieu of new commitments, the United States rolled out a series of partnerships that bring together governments, nonprofit groups, businesses and international agencies to tackle specific issues.

Powell spent a good portion of Wednesday promoting these ideas. Under heavy guard at a private college near the summit site in Johannesburg, he talked up the partnership between African nations and the American Forest & Paper Assn. to protect one of the last great tropical forests in the Congo Basin. He held a separate ceremony before television cameras to highlight a U.S. partnership with Japan to begin bringing clean water and sanitation to the 2 billion people who have neither.

"Although the challenge facing us is enormous," said Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, "I believe that the U.S. and Japan, the two largest economies of the world, can make a difference if we act together."

U.N. officials are enthusiastic about the partnerships as a means of chipping away at seemingly insurmountable problems.

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