MADRID -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called yesterday for a world treaty on terrorism that would outlaw attacks targeting civilians and establish a framework for a collective response to the global threat.
Although the United Nations and its agencies have 12 treaties covering terrorism, a universal definition has been elusive.
World leaders and officials have had deep disagreements over whether resisters to alleged oppression -- for example, Palestinian suicide bombers attacking Israeli targets -- are terrorists or freedom fighters; and whether states that use what they think is legitimate force might be branded terrorists.
But Annan was categorical in his address yesterday to terrorism specialists and world leaders from 50 countries, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
''The right to resist occupation . . . cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians," Annan told the conference on democracy, terrorism, and security. The UN, he said, must proclaim ''loud and clear that terrorism can never be accepted or justified in any cause whatsoever."
Gonzales pledged to work closely with Europe to strengthen a collective effort against terrorism.
''The fight against terrorism is, in the end, a struggle over values," the attorney general said in remarks that stressed the close cooperation between Europe and the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In his speech, Annan stressed that no country is exempt from attack and that the way forward is coordinated action by like-minded governments, which must reject brutal tactics.
''Perhaps the thing that is most vital we deny to terrorists is access to nuclear materials," Annan said. ''Nuclear terrorism is still often treated as science fiction. I wish it were."