Largest gathering of world leaders ends with a declaration

UNITED NATIONS - The world's presidents, prime ministers and kings pledged Friday to solve humankind's problems, winding down an historic three-day summit with a New Millennium's resolution vowing to send every child to school and deliver millions from destitution by 2015.

The eight-page Millennium Declaration, negotiated for weeks and adopted by acclamation and to hearty applause, is a catalog of the world's troubles - poverty, war, AIDS, pollution, human rights violations and much more - and a promise to deal with them.

''We recognize that, in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level,'' the declaration reads.

''As leaders we have a duty, therefore, to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.''

The declaration was a fitting end to a gathering of about 150 leaders that was the largest ever held, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted it was not filled with empty promises. He said the challenge now is for the leaders to return home and turn the declaration into action.

Over three days, there were many, many words exchanged. Each leader took five minutes to address the U.N. Millennium Summit, a pageant of the world's most powerful men and women, from countries great and small.

Out of the spotlight, there was more talk. Bilateral discussions continued Friday; Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had a brief encounter with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, urging him to reach a peace agreement before time runs out.

Arafat was unresponsive, Barak said.

''No good,'' the Israeli leader told The Associated Press, his hopes for peace dimmed.

For three days, New York was riddled with foreign leaders. Their motorcades snaked through Manhattan, snarling traffic as they sped past all sorts of protesters. On Friday, yellow-shirted supporters of Falun Gong handed out leaflets to commuters outside Grand Central Station, warning of new crackdowns against their spiritual movement in China.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Jiang Zemin spoke before a luncheon of U.S. business executives and called on the U.S. Senate to pass a bill now being debated that would make China a normal trading partner of the United States.

By speeding China's economic development, the agreement will also help China ''play a positive role in maintaining world peace and stability,'' he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin kept up a hectic schedule. Aside from diplomacy, he visited the Guggenheim Museum to take part in the opening of a Russian art exhibit. And he attended a signing ceremony Friday for Export-Import Bank loan guarantees to a Russian oil company.

Aside from the closing declaration, the only formal resolution of the summit was Thursday's agreement by the Security Council to make the United Nations more effective ''in addressing conflict at all stages from prevention to settlement to post-conflict peace-building.''

And the council called for the U.N. system to look at economic and social causes of conflict, something Third World countries have long sought.

In the summit declaration, the leaders promise major changes and set tough targets - to cut in half the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day, and the number of people who do not have safe drinking water, by the year 2015.

By that date, they also pledged that boys and girls everywhere will be able to complete primary school, and that the spread of HIV/AIDS and the scourge of malaria and other major diseases should be halted and reversed.

The declaration commits world leaders to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, and to close the so-called digital divide by working to make the fruits of globalization available to the poor as well as the rich.

There were some parts of the declaration that did not please the United States, though they were included in the final document. Among them was a provision calling upon the world's wealthy countries to cancel all the official debts of the poorest countries and to adopt policies of duty-free and quota-free access for exports from the least developed countries.

The United States also expressed reservations about several other aspects, including a call to convene an international conference ''to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers.''

''There is a new mood reflected in this summit,'' said South African President Thabo Mbeki, currently head of the Nonaligned Movement.

Several heads of government from the seven richest industrialized nations said ''things that they've never said before'' - like describing the challenge of combatting world poverty as the top global priority, he told a news conference.

Said Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: ''Let there be no doubt that the journey to our future, which we begin at the Millennium Summit, is over a very long and winding road.

''At every turn, we will be challenged by doubts. Overcoming that challenge and forging ahead will be the real test of the resolve that we voice at this summit,'' he said.


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