- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

NEW YORK The motorcades, hoopla and paint-throwing protests have begun as world leaders arrive for the U.N. Millennium Summit, an epic three-day gathering that will touch briefly on just about every ill and issue affecting the planet.

Starting tomorrow, as many as 160 presidents and prime ministers and a handful of kings will air their concerns in what organizers hope to limit to five-minute bursts from the green marble podium of the U.N. General Assembly hall.

Another two dozen nations will be represented by foreign ministers and diplomats at the summit, which is being billed as the largest assemblage of heads of state in human history.

Among the bold-faced names who already have begun pouring into Manhattan: President Clinton, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Mohammed Khatami, Tariq Aziz, Ehud Barak, Jiang Zemin and Daniel arap Moi.

Mr. Khatami, the Iranian president, received a rude greeting Sunday when a protester hurled yellow paint at the motorcade carrying him and Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda through Manhattan. Two other Iranians were arrested for throwing yellow paint inside the lobby of the hotel where the delegation is staying.

Another early arrival was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a 10-minute private meeting yesterday that the Middle East peace process must be concluded in a matter of weeks.

"It does not have to be a matter of days. But it can't be a matter of months. We're talking about several weeks," Mr. Barak was quoted by a spokesman as having told the secretary-general.

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro ratcheted up the political heat last week when he belatedly announced he would participate.

Newly selected Somali leader Abdiqasim Salad Hassan is likely to make his international debut, encouraging diplomats who hope it will help cement his authority at home.

The only country not to be represented at any level is Yugoslavia, whose leadership is under indictment by a U.N. war crimes tribunal.

The official purpose of the gathering, the brainchild of Mr. Annan, is to discuss international peace and security, the role and scope of the United Nations in the coming years and the impact of globalization, environmental degradation, poverty and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Unlike the organization's 50th anniversary celebration, which attracted nearly as many luminaries to New York in 1995, the Millennium Summit is to be strictly forward-looking.

The event "is not for reasons of celebration or commemoration," said Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette. "The summit is very much a working summit."

No galas have been planned, but Mr. Annan will throw a formal luncheon tomorrow, and Mr. Clinton is hosting a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday for at least 1,000 people.

U.N. organizers have conceived the summit as a way to get global leaders thinking about how their nations can help maintain international peace and security, spread the benefits of the information age across the developing world, slow the transmission of HIV and reduce poverty.

The scope and mandate of the United Nations also will be on the table, particularly its peacekeeping obligations and abilities.

Mr. Annan, who conceived a Millennium Summit to open this year's session of the General Assembly shortly after becoming secretary-general, has called the gathering "absurdly ambitious" but he meant it as a compliment.

His office has issued or commissioned a series of reports that are expected to provide the basis for four closed-door roundtable discussions led by the leaders of Venezuela, Singapore, Poland and Algeria.

The public schedule is daunting: Sixty world leaders are scheduled to address the General Assembly on each of the three days. Each is allotted just five minutes to speak.

Miss Frechette, who has spent countless hours on the podium listening to rambling speeches about great themes, admitted the schedule would be hard to maintain. However, she said, the time limit would help the world leaders to focus.

"In a five-minutes speech, I think you will get an even sharper understanding of what really is on their minds, because they will have to choose what it is they want to raise," she said.

Several minisummits have been planned as well.

Today, the half-dozen women heads of state are to meet with female heads of U.N. agencies and programs.

The leaders of the 15 Security Council nations will meet in closed session on Thursday to discuss peacekeeping issues. Immediately afterward, the heads of the five permanent members Mr. Clinton, China's Mr. Jiang, Russia's Mr. Putin, Mr. Blair of Britain and Jacques Chirac of France will have their own private sit-down.

But when everything is on the table, as it is this week, what can be accomplished?

"It's easy to be cynical about these meetings and say, 'Oh, they produce nothing,' " said Miss Frechette. "But many such gatherings have made a real difference in focusing political energy and raising political will."

In between posing for a group photograph and lunching together, scores of leaders will use their time in New York to engage in private meetings with their peers.

Mr. Barak, for example, is scheduled to meet with Mr. Blair, Mr. Chirac and Mr. Putin. He also may hold his first talks with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, and there is an outside chance he will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat since the Camp David summit.

There also will be ample opportunities for leaders to bump into each other at regional breakfasts, working lunches, diplomatic dinners and countless receptions around town.

The State Department effectively will be transplanted to New York for two weeks, occupying acres of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for bilateral and regional meetings and daily press briefings.

Other nations have taken over hotel suites, diplomatic missions and residences, and even secured midtown office space.

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