Rice: U.N. Must Launch 'Revolution of Reform'

Unwilling to accept only the modest steps taken, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) urged the United Nations on Saturday to move boldly to reform the world body so it can be more effective at fighting poverty and terrorism.

"For this institution to become an engine of change in the 21st century it must now change itself," Rice told the opening meeting of the annual General Assembly special session.

"The United Nations must launch a lasting revolution of reform," she said in prepared remarks for her first U.N. speech.

Rice singled out human rights deficiencies and terrorism as immediate problems to take on. Terrorism is the greatest threat confronting the world, she said.

"No cause, no movement, and no grievance can justify the intentional killing of innocent civilians and noncombatants," Rice said in urging adoption of a sweeping anti-terrorism convention

She rejected arguments raised by some groups that terrorism often exists in the eye of the beholder, and that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Preceding Rice to the rostrum, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said condemnation must be unqualified and that the 191 countries should "forge a global counterterrorism strategy that weakens terrorists and strengthens the international community."

"We can do it, and we must," Annan said.

Rice's speech reflects a determination by the Bush administration to refashion the U.N., which has fallen far short of completing major changes sought by Annan.

Rice has locked arms with the secretary-general, declaring him an effective manager with whom she can work closely. The speech to the General Assembly (search) conveys their joint effort to update the U.N. beyond the watered-down, 35-page reform document approved Friday.

"I have never had a better relationship with anyone than Kofi Annan," Rice said this week, thereby separating U.S. concerns about management flaws from the world body's top diplomat.

In her speech, Rice is calling the document a useful first step, but no more than that. The administration seeks, for instance, to exclude countries with poor human rights records from sitting in judgment of other nations. It also wants the secretary-general to have the flexibility to make wholesale changes in personnel.

The U.S. delegation, headed by reform-minded Ambassador John R. Bolton (search), never reluctant to point out U.N. shortcomings even at the risk of irritating traditional diplomats, is expected to follow up Rice's recommendations with resolutions in the coming weeks.

President Bush, in his speech this week to the U.N., tried to motivate adoption of measures to counter poverty by linking poverty with terrorism. He listed a number of countries that have suffered at the hands of terrorists, and the United States succeeded in deterring moves to exempt national liberation movements from being branded as terrorist groups.

While reform is the centerpiece of her speech, Rice also is dealing with world trouble spots, especially Iran's refusal to negotiate with the European Union an end to activities that suggest it is developing nuclear weapons.

But Rice already has backed away from an immediate showdown with Iran in the Security Council, where censure or sanctions might not be able to win approval. China, Russia and India, targets of a public U.S. campaign, have all indicated they are not inclined to move against Iran at this point.

Iran, meanwhile, has challenged the administration to produce evidence that it is in violation of international standards in its nuclear activities. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search) planned to rebut the U.S. position in his own speech Saturday.

Rice scheduled seven meetings with foreign officials. She has held limited sessions, leaving New York twice during the week to assist Bush in White House meetings.

Late Friday, Rice conferred with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Iran's nuclear program and "its continuing violations of its international obligations," State department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

They also discussed referring the issue to the Security Council, McCormack said. However, there was no indication that such a move was imminent.