- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NEW YORK — In his final address to an opening session of the U.N. General Assembly as secretary-general, Kofi Annan yesterday warned that the Israeli-Arab conflict has so inflamed tensions that it is constantly refueling “a climate of fear and suspicion” around the world.

Speaking with unusual candor, Mr. Annan also used his last appearance before the high-powered audience to demand economic opportunities for Africa, peace for the Middle East, and human rights for all.

“The events of the last 10 years have not resolved, but sharpened, the three great challenges … an unjust world economy, world disorder and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law,” he told the assembled world leaders, ministers and diplomats attending this year’s general debate, including President Bush.

“As a result, we face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands.”

Mr. Annan will leave the United Nations in December after a decade of global and sometimes personal turbulence.

World leaders paid tribute to the outgoing secretary-general, and congratulations poured in during the annual luncheon.

President Bush praised his compassion, desire for peace and work ethic.

“We need to toast the fact that he is a decent, honorable man,” Mr. Bush said during the luncheon. “We need to raise our glasses to 10 years of extraordinary service and be thankful that a man such as Kofi Annan was willing to stand up and serve the cause of justice and peace.”

Mr. Annan, who last month visited 11 countries in two weeks to try to quell the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, spoke passionately about the region.

“We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many,” Mr. Annan said. “But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield.”

“As long as the Security Council is unable to end this conflict, and the now nearly 40-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will respect for the United Nations continue to decline,” he warned.

The organization’s impartiality will be questioned, and people will resist the U.N. efforts to resolve other conflicts, he said, citing Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

The 61st session of the General Assembly opened amid acute security precautions. Throughout Midtown Manhattan, traffic was halted for passing motorcades, and streets surrounding luxury hotels are being barricaded through the weekend.

Mr. Annan offered a bittersweet assessment of his own tenure.

“This is the last time I shall have the honor of presenting my annual report to this assembly. Let me conclude by thanking you all for allowing me to serve as secretary-general during this remarkable decade,” Mr. Annan said yesterday.

“Together, we have pushed some big rocks to the top of the mountain, even if others have slipped from our grasp and rolled back. But this mountain with its bracing winds and global views is the best place on earth to be.”

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