- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

NEW YORK — Disputes over nuclear weapons, terrorism, development aid and human rights have diplomats questioning whether they will be able to agree on a joint declaration for the world’s leaders to proclaim at a massive U.N. summit beginning Wednesday.

Negotiations, quietly under way for months, assumed a frantic tone three weeks ago when John R. Bolton, in one of his first acts after arriving at the United Nations as U.S. ambassador, asked for about 400 changes in the draft document.

A group of 32 countries has taken the lead in trying to resolve the differences, which also involve issues ranging from environmental policy to reform of the world body.

A failure to agree could reduce the largest world summit held to date to little more than a social gathering, causing acute embarrassment to the more than 175 heads of state and government officials expected to attend, negotiators said.

“We must have a declaration. We will not even discuss the possibility of failure,” said one European diplomat who has been trying to bridge the gaps. “There is no ‘Plan B.’ If there is no document, it will show we cannot agree.”

The diplomat said, however, that it may be possible to delete some portions of the document on which agreement is unlikely.

A month ago, many nations appeared reluctantly willing to sign on to an agreement that had been crafted by U.N.-appointed mediators — known as facilitators — and frequently fell short of individual governments’ preferences and priorities.

At the time, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan exhorted governments to sign on to the whole package in good faith, rather than tear it apart to emphasize their own issues.

But the United States demanded in mid-August that the member nations take back the negotiating process from the 10 regional facilitators. Later in the month, Mr. Bolton circulated a detailed draft with hundreds of amendments and deletions, transforming the negotiations into a rigorous line-by-line analysis.

Some delegations were dismayed at the change in the drafting procedure, while others welcomed a reopening of negotiations that would allow them, too, to change language they disliked.

But with time running out, diplomats say they are far from agreeing on many important issues, including:

• Terrorism: A proposed definition that would condemn all politically motivated attacks on civilians is stalled by Arab states that insist on a reference to the legitimacy of opposing foreign occupation.

• Creation of a Human Rights Council: Many democratic nations want to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission with a smaller body that would keep notorious rights abusers from holding key positions. But rogue nations are opposing some of the reforms.

• Nuclear weapons: The United States and some other nuclear-weapons states reject language stressing disarmament, preferring to focus on nonproliferation.

A compromise has been reached on Washington’s attempt to delete all references to the five-year-old Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious program to reduce extreme poverty in developing nations. Language referring to specific goals has been watered down, but some details are under negotiation.

Another prime area of dispute — how to expand the U.N. Security Council — has been shelved until after the annual debate.

U.N. staff and foreign diplomats say it is normal for talks on such documents to go down to the final hours, but add that they need a complete declaration by Sunday or Monday if it is to be translated into six official languages and circulated to the world leaders en route to New York.

Mr. Bolton has been a powerful presence at many of the meetings, diplomats say, but U.S. officials also have traveled from Washington to help work on segments of the draft.

Some foreign diplomats, worried by what they had heard about Mr. Bolton before his arrival, said they have been pleasantly surprised.

“All lies; he is easy to work with,” said one ambassador whose nation frequently opposes Washington on development issues. “He knows what he thinks, and he will tell you.”

But others are angry that the United States waited so long to demand a major renegotiation of the declaration.

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