- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

NEW YORK — World leaders have convened for the annual U.N. General Assembly debate beginning today — one day after interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi pressed the world body to help his country organize free elections in January.

U.N. officials said yesterday they would continue to discuss a special peacekeeping force for U.N. staff in Iraq, but indicated they didn’t expect any offers of troops or assistance from member nations that would allow the organization to expand beyond the 35 international staffers already in place.

The situation in Iraq is likely to dominate the debate, which opens with addresses by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President Bush.

Some 83 presidents and prime ministers and another 103 foreign ministers are expected to participate in the eight-day event, which is being held under tight security.

Mr. Annan was expected to emphasize the rule of law in his opening statement, which often sets the tone for the two-week procession of speeches. Less than a week ago, he described the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as “illegal,” igniting a diplomatic brushfire among coalition members who said the remark was neither accurate nor helpful.

“Just as, within a country, respect for the law depends on the sense that all have a say in making and implementing it, so it is in our global community,” read an advance text of Mr. Annan’s remarks for delivery this morning.

“No nation must feel excluded. All must feel that international law belongs to them, and protects their legitimate interests.”

In the text, Mr. Annan speaks of Iraqis “massacred in cold blood, while relief workers, journalists and other noncombatants are taken hostage and put to death in the most barbarous fashion.”

In a reference to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, he also mentioned Iraqi prisoners who were “disgracefully abused.” Looking elsewhere, he singled out abuses of civilians in Darfur, northern Uganda, Russia, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Bush has indicated that he plans to emphasize a prosperous future, rather than the divisive issues of previous years, such as the war on terror and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This week, I will speak in New York to the United Nations General Assembly, and I will talk about the great possibilities of our time to improve health, expand prosperity and extend freedom in our world,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address, broadcast Saturday afternoon.

“Our country is determined to spread hope and economic progress and freedom as the alternatives to hatreds, resentments and terrorist violence.”

U.S. officials say their goal for the General Assembly session is to build support for free economies, strengthen democracies and increase global pressure against human trafficking. Washington is also expected to lobby hard for support on a treaty that will ban all forms of cloning.

But Iraq will not be a ghost issue, especially with Mr. Allawi scheduled to address the chambers on Friday. The embattled prime minister has beseeched the United Nations to return to Iraq and provide substantive support for the January elections.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say there is no need to postpone the balloting, but Mr. Annan and others have warned that it will be nearly impossible to have a free and fair process in the existing climate of such fear and violence.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told The Washington Times last week that the Bush administration expects those conditions to improve before January.

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