U.N. Counterterror Conference Opens

Published September 22, 2003

| Associated Press

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), opening an international conference on counterterrorism (search) hours after the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad were attacked for a second time, said world leaders must deal with the roots of terrorism if they are to fight it more effectively.

Nearly 20 heads of state joined Annan, counterterrorism experts and a handful of terror victims in New York to discuss, as the agenda puts it, the "roots of evil" and what lies behind terror.

Security at the conference was tight — too tight for South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma who left the conference rather than be frisked by security guards.

"You don't treat a foreign minister this way," she told The Associated Press. Conference organizers apologized but said security was in the hands of the U.S. Secret Service.

Hours before the conference opened, a car bomber killed an Iraqi policeman and himself outside the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on Monday. The attack, which came as the United Nations considers expanding its role in Iraq, also injured 19 people, including two Iraqi U.N. workers.

Annan told reporters he was "shocked and distressed" by the attack. He warned that if the security situation in Iraq "continues to deteriorate then our operations will be handicapped considerably."

Monday's session, called "fighting terrorism for humanity," is the brainchild of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Elie Wiesel (search), a Nobel Peace Prize (search) winner and Holocaust survivor.

The meeting at a hotel near the United Nations takes place on the same day as a U.N. AIDS summit and a day before the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to be dominated by Iraq.

"We have to deal with the roots and fanaticism behind terrorism in order to make the fight more effective," Bondevik, the conference chairman, told AP.

Attendants at the terrorism summit and the AIDS summit include the leaders of France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Canada, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Portugal, Brazil and Indonesia among others. Both Israel and the Palestinians are sending their foreign ministers.

President Bush was invited but the administration sent Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., as its representative while Colin Powell will be three blocks away at the AIDS summit.

Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, concentrated on weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed by terrorist organizations eager to get them.

"For the foreseeable future, the intelligence community will face an extensive threat from the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Addressing this situation will require an unwavering commitment."

The lower-level U.S. presence at the terrorism conference was a disappointment for organizers, though Bondevik expressed gratitude for Lugar's presence. The Norwegian premier has been anxious to quell concerns that an examination of the roots of terror is not meant to find excuses for such acts.

Still, "fighting terrorism should be about more than using your military and freezing finances," he said, alluding to the U.S. efforts.

His comments were echoed by Annan in his address to the gathering.

"We delude ourselves if we think that military force alone can defeat terrorism," the secretary-general said. "It may sometimes be necessary to use force to counter terrorist groups but we need to do much more than that if terrorism is to be stopped."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov plans to challenge what Moscow calls Western "double standards" on terrorism at the conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Monday.

Yakovenko did not elaborate, but Russia has often blasted Western countries for supporting the global fight against terror while condemning Moscow's war in Chechnya, where both Russian forces and rebels have been accused of brutalizing civilians.

Monday's conference is a followup on findings experts produced at a June meeting in Oslo outlining root causes, including a lack of democracy, failed or weak states, rapid modernization, extreme ideologies, political violence, inequality, corrupt governments, repression and discrimination.

Victims from the Bali bombings, the World Trade Center attacks and Spain's conflict with Basque separatists are among the list of speakers.

Bondevik said he hoped the gathering would "renew a commitment to the war on terrorism," an effort which has lost steam as the Iraq war and tensions it caused between the United States and its allies have taken center stage.

The Norwegian premier, who was against the war, said the conference would also discuss recent terrorist acts in Iraq, including the deadly bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last month.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gave a stirring speech about his country's role in the war on terrorism and its impact on Muslim people who he said were feeling under attack.

"The situation in the Middle East has become even more volatile because of the situation in Iraq and there is a growing sense among Muslims that Islam, as a religion, is being targeted and pilloried."

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