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Kofi Annan warns members must reform UN
Updated: 2004-12-09 10:16

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned member states Wednesday they must act quickly to reform the United Nations if the world is to successfully tackle 21st century global threats such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and AIDS.

"The United Nations has done a good job in many instances, and is often undervalued," he said. "But it needs change perhaps radical change if it is to meet the challenges to come."

Annan went to the General Assembly chamber to introduce last week's report by a high-level panel that called for the most sweeping reform of the United Nations since its founding in 1945, including expansion of the Security Council to reflect current global realities and new guidelines for authorizing preventive military attacks.

It was the first time Annan appeared before the U.N.'s 191 member states since a U.S. senator called for his resignation last week over allegations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq. He received a standing ovation and sustained applause from diplomats in the horseshoe-shaped chamber at the end of his speech.

"You've just received the rare and valuable homage of the General Assembly," the assembly's president Jean Ping told Annan after the applause ended. "And I interpret this long ... ovation as an acknowledgment of your actions and also an expression of confidence in yourself and also of the work you've undertaken at the helm of the United Nations."

Annan on Tuesday rejected calls for his resignation and said he would concentrate on U.N. reform in the last two years of his term. In his speech, he did not refer to the calls to step down.

Instead, he praised the panel for providing "a new and comprehensive vision of collective security for the 21st century."

"One of its key messages is this: because of globalization we live in a world of interconnected threats and mutual vulnerability between rich and poor and weak and strong. No country can afford to deal with today's threats alone, and no threat can be dealt with effectively unless other threats are addressed at the same time," Annan said.

"It is hardly possible to overstate what is at stake," he stressed, "not only for this organization but for all the peoples of this world, for whose safety this organization was created. If we do not act resolutely, and together, the threats described in the report can overwhelm us."

The issues facing the international community, the panel said, go far beyond fighting wars and must include campaigns to fight poverty, terrorism, environmental destruction, organized crime and weapons proliferation.

"Do we want the human costs of HIV/AIDS to accumulate to the point where societies and states collapse?" Annan asked the U.N. members. "Do we want to face a future cascade of nuclear proliferation? Next time we are faced with genocide, will we again resign ourselves to watching passively until it is too late? Do we want to raise our children in a world where small groups of terrorists can murder hundreds of thousands at any moment?

"The answer to all these questions must surely be a resounding 'no.' And that means getting serious about prevention across the full range of threats that we face," he said.

Annan said he was encouraged that despite wide differences, panel members were able to agree on circumstances when the use of force is legitimate and on a definition of terrorism.

"It is up to you, the member states, to act on their recommendations, and to make 2005 the year of change at the United Nations," Annan said. "It is not simply a matter of making the organization better. It is a matter of confronting, in the only way possible, the real and present dangers that lie in wait for us."

The secretary-general said he plans to act quickly on the panel's recommendation to promote a new comprehensive strategy against terrorism which he plans to present next year. He urged members to support a new security system to protect U.N. staff.

In the coming months, members of the General Assembly will debate all aspects of the report and Annan said he plans to present his own report and recommendations in March, which could lead to decisions by world leaders at a U.N. summit in September.

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