The Annual General Meeting of the United Nations, the organisation’s 61st, has begun in New York. It will be secretary general Kofi Annan’s last, as he is retiring after 10 years of mixed fortunes at the helm, and President Bush warned members even tougher challenges lay ahead:
“Al-Qaeda, inspired by its extremist ideology, has attacked more than two dozen nations & recently a different group of extremists deliberately provoked a terrible conflict in Lebanon. At the start of the 21st century it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle.”
Annan leaves the job unsatisfied, with some successes, but continued concern for one region he clearly sees as crucial for the world: “We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many, but it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in busses and dancehalls, so long will passions everywhere be enflamed”. Annan’s words won him a standing ovation, although he himself has admitted his decade in charge may always be tainted by UN failings in Rwanda, where the world couldn’t prevent a near-genocide of Tutsis.