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Annan urges global leaders to back UN overhauls

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary General Kofi Annan urged world leaders yesterday to implement the boldest changes to the United Nations in its 60-year history by expanding the Security Council, tackling conflicts and terrorism, and strengthening protections for human rights.

In a speech to the 191-member UN General Assembly, Annan called for adopting his entire overhaul package at a summit of world leaders in September, and he warned countries against treating the list of proposals ''as an a la carte menu, and select only those that you especially fancy."

But getting leaders to agree on the package will not be easy because many countries have opposing views on issues ranging from overhauls of the powerful Security Council to creation of a new Human Rights Council to increasing development assistance to poor countries.

The timing of Annan's appeal also raised some questions, coming just before the former US Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, releases the results of an investigation into the activities of Annan and his son, Kojo, in the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq. Kojo Annan worked in Africa for a company that had an oil-for-food contract.

Several diplomats and government officials said the report was a good start but they wanted to study it more closely.

The United States, however, rejected a recommendation that the Security Council adopt a resolution specifying the criteria for decisions on whether to use force. ''In our view, the [UN] charter deals with the issue sufficiently," said Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the US State Department.

The oil-for-food scandal is one of several that have dogged the world body this year. The sex abuse by peacekeeping troops in Congo and the resignation of the UN refugee chief amid sexual harassment charges have also tainted the UN image.

Mark Malloch Brown, the secretary general's chief of staff, dismissed media comments that Annan's report was ''a panicked response" to the UN's problems.

Annan is proposing the most extensive overhaul of the world body since its founding in 1945. His proposals call for a realignment of the United Nations to give additional weight to key development, security, and human rights issues. It also sets out plans to make the world body more efficient, open, and accountable -- including strengthening the independence and authority of the UN's internal watchdog.

Volcker's report is expected by the end of March, but Annan believes he will be cleared and has invited world leaders to a summit in September to consider the overhauls. ''These are reforms that are within reach -- reforms that are actionable if we can garner the necessary political will," Annan said in the report, which called 2005 ''a historic opportunity" to create a better life for millions of people.

But getting all 191 UN member states to agree on the package will be a challenge.

''It's a very well-prepared gamble," Malloch Brown said, urging world leaders to focus on the positive and adopt the package by consensus in September.

One of the major proposals in the package calls for a new Human Rights Council as a major UN organ -- possibly on a par with the Security Council -- to replace the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights. That panel has long faced criticism for allowing the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation.

Annan also called for an expansion of the UN Security Council to reflect the global realities today, but he left the details to the General Assembly. He urged its members to decide on a plan before the September summit, preferably by consensus, but if that is impossible by a vote.

Annan backed two options proposed in December by a high-level panel. One would add six new permanent members and the other would create a new tier of eight semipermanent members: two each from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

In cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, Annan urged all states to accept that there is a ''responsibility to protect" those being killed, which requires collective action.

Currently, the report noted, half the countries emerging from violent conflict revert to conflict within five years. To prevent the return to war, Annan called for the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission, as well as a Democracy Fund to provide money and technical expertise to countries seeking to establish or strengthen their democracy.

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