- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

JOHANNESBURG U.S. officials say specific promises of aid have set the stage for productive and congenial sessions at a major U.N. conference that opened yesterday, in contrast to the bickering that characterized such conferences in the past.
Foreign delegations and private organizations already are showing "a great deal of excitement" over a series of practical initiatives put forward by the Americans in dozens of private meetings, the head of the U.S. delegation said in an interview last night.
Assistant Secretary of State John Turner, who is heading the U.S. team until the arrival of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said the United States "is committed that the summit will be a success and is fully committed to result-oriented action that will make a difference in key areas."
Tens of thousands of delegates taking part in the largest event of its kind Africa has seen will attempt during the next 10 days to agree on nothing less than a plan for the future of the planet.
Interviews with delegates from several Third World and developed countries confirmed there is a willingness to "cooperate rather than to confront," despite the efforts of pressure groups to provoke clashes.
The atmosphere of cooperation, unseen at other major U.N. conferences in past years, has much to do with a series of announcements expected during the next few days of U.S.- and Western-funded projects.
Mr. Turner pointed out that President Bush, the only major world leader not planning to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development, recently promised to commit an additional $5 billion to promote development worldwide.
Mr. Bush "cares deeply about people and has thus committed considerable focus and resources to help reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development," he said.
Mr. Turner said he has pointed out repeatedly in Johannesburg that the United States "is coming with resources to address poverty, access to water and energy, fight hunger, recover forests, provide health care and education, protect oceans and marine resources, and enhance biodiversity."
The United States is embracing a new approach to addressing these problems, Mr. Turner said. "We are looking for partnerships with governments, with nongovernmental organizations, with philanthropic organizations."
The delegation chief said he saw the summit as "a historic opportunity" that must be grasped or "future generations will hold us accountable."
The success of the U.S. approach is evident in the willingness of normally hostile countries to set aside their anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric in favor of exploring how to approach specific development projects.
The Washington Times has learned that an announcement tomorrow will call for the Asian Development Bank to provide $500 million in soft loans to help Asian countries with water conservation and sanitation. The United States and Japan are the bank's biggest donors, each providing 25 percent of its funds.
Even the Arab delegations, who have pushed aggressively to condemn Israel in previous summits such as last year's world conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, say they foresee no serious battle over the issue.
Arab delegates said they had already given up on their effort to insert language saying Israel was guilty of "war crimes." The proposed wording now refers only to the "degradation" of the environment in the Palestinian territories as a result of the Israeli occupation, an Arab delegate said.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, the conference host, set the tone for the conference at yesterday's opening ceremony with remarks that, while hard-hitting, avoided pointing a finger at the West.
He chided the delegates for what he termed their failure to bring about the projects and plans promoted 10 years ago at the so-called "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro.
"There is every need for us to demonstrate to the billions of people we lead that we are committed to the vision and practice of human solidarity, that we do not accept that human society should be constructed on the basis of a savage principle of the survival of the fittest," he said.
Mr. Mbeki said the failure to fulfill the promises made in Rio had led to an avoidable increase in human misery and ecological degradation, increasing the gap between developed and developing countries.
"It is as though we have decided to spurn what the human intellect tells us, that the survival of the fittest only presages the destruction of all humanity," he said.
Mr. Mbeki said delegates to the summit had an obligation to adopt a meaningful Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
"The peoples of the world expect that this world summit will live up to its promise of being a fitting culmination to a decade of hope," he said.

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