- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

NEW YORK What looked like a low-wattage U.N. gathering now is taking on new life with a focus on the U.S.-led war on terrorism as dozens of world leaders have agreed to attend a General Assembly debate next week.

President Bush will make his first appearance before the world body on Nov. 10, the first day of the weeklong debate, and several governments have upgraded their participation in the annual event.

While he is here, Mr. Bush will meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to discuss a $500 million aid package, regional security and other matters.

He also will attend the annual luncheon for presidents and prime ministers and probably will sit at the head table with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

U.S. officials still are unable to flesh out the rest of the president's schedule. However, U.N. and U.S. officials say the fight against terrorism specifically the situations in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the importance of international legal conventions is likely to dominate both the public addresses and the private meetings held on the sidelines of the annual debate.

So far, 49 world leaders had confirmed their participation in the general debate, which was postponed from mid-September after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Several high-level meetings are planned for that week, including a largely summit-level meeting of the 53-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.

There is some talk of reconvening the so-called "six-plus-two" meetings of Afghanistan's six neighbors Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China plus the United States and Russia.

The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in the region, but is prepared to return to New York if the parties demand it. Jan Fischer, General Assembly spokesman, said leaders often confirm only a week before the scheduled debate, often out of security concerns or potential scheduling conflicts.

"Once committed, it's more difficult to pull out," he said. "It's much easier to add their names."

Many world leaders enjoy coming to the General Assembly because it is an opportunity for them to articulate their nations' goals and priorities in a public, nonconfrontational way that also is guaranteed to dominate the news at home.

The vast General Assembly chambers is a dramatic backdrop, giving weight to a president's or prime minister's declarations about world peace, social and economic development, debt relief, cooperation, disarmament and myriad other topics.

But the real value, say U.N. officials and most delegations, is the opportunity for leaders to meet privately, without the pomp and expectations generated by a state visit. These bilateral, regional and ad hoc gatherings will take place in conference rooms, hotel suites, diplomatic missions throughout midtown Manhattan, and even in spartan booths in the heavily secured U.N. visitors' lobby.

"This is a great venue to meet foreign ministers and world leaders that otherwise would have to be met in the capitals," said Ariel Milo, spokesman for the Israeli mission. "In one week, you are able to condense a lot of diplomacy that is very effective."

Issues other than terrorism and building a new Afghanistan are on the table.

Mr. Annan plans to focus on the worsening situation in the Middle East, say aides who dismiss recent reports in Israel of a new U.N.-proposed peace initiative.

Mr. Annan also is hoping to nudge the heads of Pakistan and India toward a rapprochement over Kashmir.

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