- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

Tower of Babel?
The annual U.N. General Assembly debate that ended on Friday afternoon was an unusually coherent event more an impassioned discussion than the traditional "dialogue of the deaf" in which world leaders air their concerns without listening to others. The big issue, of course, was Iraq.
After President Bush's litany of Baghdad's "delays and denial" of cooperation with U.N. weapons inspections, the possibility of war was so hard to ignore that even Switzerland had to weigh in.
This is the third year in a row that about 50 hours of high-profile speeches addressed a relevant theme; previous years' debates dealt with terrorism and humanitarian intervention. The words of 188 speakers reverberated through news accounts and the Internet to shape the debate from the U.S. Congress to the coffee shops at home. It was a topical airing of official position and interpretation, searchable by nation, region and culture.
Could the annual debate traditionally a high-security exercise in predictability and tepid words actually transform the United Nations' reputation from "the tower of babble" to a force for constructive discussion?
Let's see what happens next year.

Spiritual solution
A group of religious leaders and political figures are exploring the possibility of adding a new council to the United Nations, one that would add a spiritual dimension to the economic, political and social prisms of U.N. problem solving.
The Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, an international interfaith gathering, has been laying the groundwork for the new U.N. organ since the September 2000 Millennium Summit.
"Right now, there is no structured way for religious NGOs to bear on the major issues at the United Nations," said Karen Judd Smith, director of the group's office on U.N. relations. "The proposal is simple: Create an interreligious council, just like the Economic and Social Council."
A variety of religious and political figures were to have explored the matter over the weekend at their annual conference, held at the New York Hilton. Among those scheduled to attend: Dorothy Motabatse, a South African member of Parliament; Millicent Percival, president of the senate of Antigua and Barbuda; and Sonia Saldivar Ronda Cabahue, who advises the Philippine government on religious affairs.
The conference was hosted, in part, by the Ugandan government, which was represented by its U.N. ambassador, Semakula Kiwanuka, and Second Deputy Prime Minister Al-Haji Moses Ali.
IIFWP leaders say they have no illusions about how long it will take for governments and the U.N. Secretariat to move on such a proposal. Even within the religious and spiritual community, Ms. Smith said, the proposal has generated "difficult discussions."
"The idea has been raised, but not explored fully by any means," Ms. Smith said, adding that one of the purposes of the meeting was to start a larger discussion of the idea.
Within the United Nations, there is little enthusiasm for creating a cluster on the already sprawling organizational chart. Secretariat officials say a new interreligious council would require consent and a financial commitment from member states, and possibly a revision of the U.N. Charter.
Kevin Kennedy, who works with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on external relations issues, said spiritual and religious dimensions are often factored into U.N. work in an ad hoc way.
"The United Nations has long worked with religious groups in conflict zones and conference rooms," he said, singling out the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
However, he said, there have been no formal proposals from member states to create a religious council within the organization, nor a religious advisory office within the Secretariat.
Both ideas have been floated by faith-based NGOs, and gathered momentum at a conference held at U.N. headquarters two years ago.
Ms. Smith said the movement is part of a growing recognition "that human beings are not purely political, economic and social animals. We acknowledge the human spirit, that we are ethical beings, and that needs to be incorporated into the work of the United Nations."
The IIFWP was created in 1999 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church.

Betsy Pisik can be reached at [email protected]

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