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New York prepares for U.N. Millennium Summit
Lofty goals set for world leaders
UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N.'s Millennium Summit promises hope for world peace, help for billions living in poverty -- and traffic headaches for ordinary New Yorkers.
Pressing global problems will be the focus of discussions during what's being called the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. The talks, running Wednesday through Friday, will draw more than 150 kings, presidents and prime ministers. Many already have arrived -- and more are on their way.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami also came early and met Iranian-Americans at the U.N. following a protest against his government in which five Iranians were arrested.
While world leaders continue to converge on New York, summit organizers are completing two years of painstaking preparations.
Thousands of secret service agents have been assigned to police the gathering -- the biggest since the world body's 50th anniversary celebrations five years ago, which drew some 118 heads of state and government. More than 90 protests are expected on New York streets during the three days of the summit.
VIP traffic jams to set tough task for police
Driving on Manhattan's east side during the summit may prove almost impossible. The volume of limousines clogging the busy streets between New York's famous skyscrapers is set to soar.
"There will be about 170 motorcades involving 1,300 vehicles. When you put all those vehicles in one congested area over on the east side there, it can get very complicated," New York Police Department Commissioner Bernard Kerik said.
The planned protests could make things even worse.
New Yorkers are being warned to avoid the east side and to expect major delays. Meanwhile, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- who often has complained about U.N. officials using diplomatic immunity to escape parking tickets -- sees the funny side.
"We thought of using this whole thing as a sort of sting operation ... to collect parking tickets, but then we thought that would be in very bad taste," joked Giuliani.
Security considerations deadly serious
Despite the mayor's light-hearted tone, the city is deadly serious about security for the hundreds of visiting dignitaries. Barriers have gone up around hotels where world leaders are staying and up to 6,000 of New York's 41,000 police officers will be assigned to cover the summit at any given time.
Security considerations have reportedly prompted the moving of some meetings from large, ceremonial economic and social chambers at the U.N. into smaller, basement conference rooms.
Add in the inevitable squabbles over who speaks longest, who sits next to whom and who gets the last word, and U.N. staff are facing a huge challenge. At least it's one they've been expecting.
"It's going to be the week from hell," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
Middle East peace a major issue
But the biggest challenges have nothing to do with logistics -- or security.
Leaders, who are scheduled to address the General Assembly for just five minutes each, will also hold separate round-table talks on programs aimed at lifting billions of people out of poverty, preventing wars -- and saving the global environment.
The critical Middle East peace process will be the focus of meetings among Barak, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. So far, no one-on-one meetings have been scheduled between Barak and Arafat.
Israelis and Palestinians describe the scheduled sessions with Clinton as a make-or-break moment in the tortuous peace process that began with a mutual recognition treaty in 1993 and led to a mutually self-imposed September 13 deadline for a so-called final status agreement.
African leaders hope for a meeting on the Congo's many-sided civil war, although Congo President Laurent Kabila will not attend. Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, rebels are fighting the government as well as U.N. peacekeepers.
Mini summits are planned
Within the summit, a series of minisummits is planned. Leaders representing the 15 countries on the Security Council will discuss peacekeeping -- and a recent blue-ribbon panel report on how to recruit better-trained and more professional troops.
Leaders of the five countries that are permanent council members are likely to meet separately. They are: Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
In addition, more than 700 one-on-one meetings between leaders are expected, with the United Nations providing cubicles for those not meeting at hotels around town.
With every issue on the table, many are asking whether anything but vague statements can result despite specific targets Annan has proposed.
"I would expect the summit to come up with a program of action not just for the United Nations but also for the members states," Annan told the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London via an audio link on Monday.
"Yes, we have major problems, so let's solve them together," he said.
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