- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

NEW YORK — U.S. diplomats this week will swallow their frustrations over the unwieldy U.N. bureaucracy and press for diplomatic progress at the annual General Assembly debate — a global forum that will address issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the war in Sudan.

The world body enacted few of the most important reforms proposed last year, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s plans to work in New York for more than a week reflects a recognition that, for better or worse, the United Nations is virtually the only forum to address a growing basket of global problems.

President Bush, by tradition, will address the world body on its opening morning, at about 11:30 today.

The administration plans to stress its “freedom agenda,” particularly for the Middle East, a State Department official said last week.

The U.S. program for the session includes a private “democracy round table” for two dozen world leaders, a forum on Burma’s human rights violations to be hosted by first lady Laura Bush, and tightly timed bilateral meetings for Mr. Bush and Miss Rice with their foreign counterparts.

U.S. officials said they are hopeful that the reform agenda that dominated last year’s discussions will continue through the 61st session of the General Assembly.

During the seven-day debate, scores of world leaders will take the podium to share their views and meet on the sidelines to forge agreements on issues ranging from sanctions to trade and from peace to war.

That, diplomats said, is the power of the United Nations, even with all its imperfections.

“Why do people come to the U.N.?” French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere asked last week, even as he lamented the slow progress on reforms. “Because it is needed.”

Proposed reforms include a reconfiguration of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members reflect the balance of global power in 1948, and measures to streamline the administration of the organization. The U.N. human rights body was reorganized last year, but the changes fell short of U.S. demands.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, has turned to the United Nations to help shore up Iraq’s economy and development. More than a dozen nations participated in a meeting yesterday for the Compact on Iraq, which is seeking new funds for Iraq’s reconstruction. Miss Rice represented the United States at the closed-door event.

U.S. officials said they do not expect to make significant progress on Iran or North Korea, both of which are pursuing potentially destabilizing nuclear programs.

The Middle East peace process will be reviewed tomorrow by the Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union. The group is scouring the globe for troops to deploy on the Israel-Lebanon border under a U.N. resolution that ended the 34-day war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Among the leaders en route to New York for the high-security event are: South African President Thabo Mbeki, French President Jacques Chirac; King Abdullah of Jordan; Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who has just declared her candidacy to succeed Mr. Annan; Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora; Cuban acting President Raul Castro; Sudanese President Omar Bashir; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking a seat on the U.N. Security Council next year.

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