White House shuns U.N. anti-poverty measure
By Kim Gamel
UNITED NATIONS -- As world leaders gathered Monday for the annual U.N. General Assembly, French President Jacques Chirac -- already deeply at odds with the Bush administration over the war in Iraq -- accused Washington of obstructing a worldwide campaign to eradicate poverty.
Chirac spoke after the U.S. administration declined after two high-level meetings to endorse a final declaration that was supported by 110 countries. The nonbinding document called for a "renewed political mobilization" to help more than 1 billion people trying to eke out a living on less than $1 a day.
"However strong the Americans may be, in the long term, you cannot successfully oppose a position taken by 110 countries," Chirac told a news conference. "You can't oppose that forever."
Chirac planned to return to Paris on Monday night, making it impossible for him to meet with President Bush who speaks before the General Assembly when it officially opens today. Bush did not attend the Monday meetings.
Chirac said he and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would propose new approaches to fund the alleviation of poverty, although the preparatory meetings resulted in no specific proposals.
"The price of selfishness is rebellion," he warned. "We should ensure that the world's unprecedented wealth becomes a vehicle for the integration, rather the exclusion, of the most underprivileged.
"It is up to us to give globalization a conscience," he said.
The document adopted after Monday's meetings, but not signed by the Americans, did not make specific anti-poverty proposals but said the time had come "to give further attention to innovative mechanisms of financing -- public of private, compulsory and voluntary, of universal or limited membership" to raise funds to fight poverty.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemen rejected the idea of a global tax proposed in a February U.N. report and favored by some of the participants, including France, saying it was impossible to impose.
"A global tax is inherently undemocratic," she said.
Silva said overwhelming hunger and unemployment in developing nations was contributing to international violence.
"How many more times will it be necessary to repeat that the most destructive weapon of mass destruction in the world is poverty?" he asked during a speech at a session that focused on a U.N. report about the growing divide between the world's haves and have-nots.
Asked later whether he was concerned by the lack of U.S. support for the declaration, Silva told journalists that the United States had taken an important step by sending a representative.
The report said the income gap between the richest and poorest countries has widened over the past four decades, and the vast majority of the world's population could fail to see the benefits of globalization.
"Fair globalization must begin with the right of everyone to a job," Silva said, stressing that "dignified work, like the fight against hunger, cannot wait."
Bush, who has focused on Iraq in his last two speeches to the General Assembly, is making a dramatic shift this year. He said in his radio broadcast Saturday he would "talk about the great possibilities of our time to improve health, expand prosperity and extend freedom in the world."
Monday's meetings were aimed at setting the stage for a General Assembly summit next year to assess progress toward meeting the goals of the 2000 Millennium Summit. Those goals include halving the number of people living in dire poverty from 2000 levels, ensuring that all children have an elementary school education, that all families have clean water, and that the AIDS epidemic is halted -- all by 2015.
"Progress in eradicating extreme poverty has been uneven," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "With creativity and political will, we could do much better."
The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, which was established in 2002 by the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, urged policy-makers in the February report to set fairer rules for trade and immigration so that millions of people can benefit -- not suffer -- from globalization.
More than 1 billion people were living on less than $1 per day in 2000, the report said.
Other proposals put forward in Monday's debates were reduction of trade barriers and elimination of agricultural subsidies.