- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

NEW YORK In the first appearance ever by an American vice president before the U.N. Security Council, Al Gore yesterday said AIDS must be redefined as a threat to human security.

"We tend to think of a threat to security in terms of war and peace. Yet no one can doubt that the havoc wreaked and the toll exacted by HIV [and] AIDS do threaten our security," he said.

To combat the new security threat, Mr. Gore told the 15-member body the Clinton administration will seek $150 million next year to fight AIDS in Africa and other diseases, a proposal first floated in July.

Last year's announcement came after homosexual activists from the group ACT UP disrupted nearly every campaign event attended by the Democratic presidential candidate. They said Mr. Gore was siding with pharmaceutical companies at the expense of Africans with AIDS.

In the weeks after the disturbances, Mr. Gore actively courted the homosexual vote. The vice president made a quiet visit to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, and his wife, Tipper, hosted what was billed as the capital's first presidential fund-raiser aimed at homosexuals, promising contributors her husband would "fight for your dreams."

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke who is assumed to aspire to the office of secretary of state in a Gore administration rejected suggestions that Mr. Gore's appearance was political.

"None of what he's doing here today has any direct impact on the present phase of the primary season, which is intense and being conducted in two states which are far away from here," Mr. Holbrooke said, although the site of the nation's first primary Feb. 1 in New Hampshire was just 150 miles away.

Mr. Gore's announcement yesterday before the international body did not placate critics. Activists from ACT UP criticized the $150 million amount, calling it "a drop in the funding bucket."

Most Americans do not count AIDS, the United Nations or even Africa as issues of passionate concern, but the vice president's speech was targeted at black and homosexual voters, two constituencies where polls show Mr. Gore needs to improve his standing.

The appearance also provided intense media coverage, giving Mr. Gore a chance to burnish his image as a foreign-affairs expert. CNN, for one, carried his speech live on its international channel and interviewed him afterward.

The vice president took time from his campaign to guest-host yesterday's meeting, launching a four-week focus on Africa as the United States assumes the rotating Security Council presidency for the month of January.

Mr. Gore said the administration will ask Congress to approve $100 million to combat AIDS through prevention and education, reduce transmission of the virus during childbirth and care for AIDS orphans. Another $50 million would be used to research, develop and distribute vaccines for a variety of infectious diseases throughout the developing world, including Asia and Latin America.

"When 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected every minute; when 11 million children have already become orphans; … when a single disease threatens everything from economic strength to peacekeeping we clearly face a security threat of the greatest magnitude," Mr. Gore said.

AIDS has decimated much of sub-Saharan Africa, claiming 14 million lives and counting more than armed conflict in the same period. The virus is spreading with lightning speed, infecting 11,000 Africans every day, according to U.N. statistics.

Despite impassioned speeches on the issue yesterday by the head of the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program and the U.N.'s chief AIDS officer, diplomats and U.N. officials found it impossible to escape the speculation about Mr. Gore's motives.

"His presence here is healthy and will help put AIDS on the international agenda," Secretary-General Kofi Annan replied to a question.

But Mr. Annan himself appeared to endorse Mr. Gore when he teasingly introduced him as "Mr. President," adding after a dramatic pause, "of the U.N. Security Council." The remark elicited an embarrassed silence, followed by nervous laughter.

"I'm working on it," responded Mr. Gore.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo refused to be drawn into the fray.

"I'm not here to defend Al Gore," he said, "but it's not as bad as it looks."

The daylong session on the scope and cost of AIDS in Africa marked the first time the council has discussed a health issue, effectively expanding the reach of the council and its definition of international security.

Although many council nations applauded the effort, Russia and China agreed to let the session take place only on the condition that it not be considered a precedent.

Mr. Gore became entangled in the AIDS issue when activists charged that he was helping pharmaceutical companies thwart South Africa's efforts to bypass U.S. patent laws so it could get AIDS medicines at a lower cost.

In 1997, South Africa passed a law granting the government unspecified power to obtain cheaper AIDS drugs for the country, where more than 3 million people are HIV positive and 2.5 million children are expected to be orphaned because of the virus over the next 10 years.

According to Gore aides, a misunderstanding began in February after the State Department submitted a report on U.S. efforts to get the medicines act amended. A provision inserted into last year's budget required the report as a condition for releasing U.S. aid to South Africa.

Mr. Gore said in a July letter to members of the Congressional Black Caucus that the Clinton administration was merely expressing concerns about the law's vagueness and asked the South African government to assure it would "not undermine legal protections" for patent holders.

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