UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call Monday for the United Nations to play a major role in the long-term international fight against terrorism won immediate support from the United States, Russia and China. But the world body still struggled over what it can and should do.
Addressing a scaled-down meeting of the General Assembly, Annan declared that only the United Nations can give "global legitimacy" to the long-term struggle against "the unspeakable horror" of terrorism. He urged all countries to work together to strengthen international peace and security "by cementing the ties among nations, and not subjecting them to new strains."
Last week, the General Assembly postponed its annual gathering of global leaders because of security concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Nonetheless, the 189 nations in the world body are going ahead with their work program among lower level representatives - with the exception of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov who was in New York after talks in Washington.
Backing Annan, Ivanov told the General Assembly that the United Nations should lead any global action against terrorism and warned against moves that could erode international law.
"It is necessary to strengthen and enhance the role of the United Nations as an indispensable instrument for maintaining international peace and security and for mobilizing people of the world against new, unprecedented threats," he said.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan urged all countries to strengthen cooperation "and make joint efforts for the sake of their common interests to prevent and combat all forms of terrorist activities."
"The United Nations should play an important role in this regard," he said.
Cameron Hume, the third-ranking U.S. diplomat, said "the entire (U.N.) membership has a new and overarching challenge after Sept. 11" which must be met by a global response.
Supporting the secretary-general, he said: "The U.N. must play an international role in marshaling the international community's long-term efforts to defeat this scourge."
"This is a crucial moment for the United Nations," Hume said. "It has a chance to live up to the ideals on which it was founded. The United States pledges its support to the United Nations."
The new U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, who presented his credentials last week, was on the list of speakers, but U.S. officials said he had a previously scheduled appointment with the New Zealand ambassador.
The secretary-general did not address specific measures in his speech, but last week he said U.N. member states must stop providing shelter and logistical support for terrorists, halt the laundering of money used to finance terrorist acts, and share information on terrorists and their organizations.
Annan said Monday he expects the General Assembly at its Oct. 1 plenary meeting on international terrorism to stress the urgency for all nations to ratify, and above all implement, a dozen legally binding conventions and protocols to fight terrorism - and to consider new ones.
Hume said the United States hopes next week's meeting "will promote unity of purpose and strong steps that the U.N. can take to combat terror." He gave no indication of what steps Washington was seeking.
"These efforts will also require absolute clarity that the international community condemns and rejects any effort to offer false justification for the attack or to protect those who committed it," he said.
In somber tones, Annan told diplomats in the hushed General Assembly chamber that the attacks struck at everything the United Nations stands for: "peace, freedom, tolerance, human rights, the very idea of a united family."