The U.N. General Assembly has postponed its annual gathering of world leaders scheduled to begin next week because of security difficulties in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks.
The delay marks the first time in the United Nation's 56-year history that the General Assembly postponed the high-level round of speech-making, although the entire assembly session was postponed for more than two months in 1964 so members could attend a non-aligned conference, the assembly president said.
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank on Monday canceled their flagship annual meetings in Washington because of similar security concerns about the events, which attract finance ministers and heads of state from around the world.
Even before the attacks, the IMF-World Bank meetings had already been scaled back to two days due to the threat of violent protests by groups which do not agree with the institutions' policies. As many as 100,000 protesters had initially been expected.
The Mobilization for Global Justice, a coalition of various groups organizing the protests, said in an e-mail message over the weekend that it was canceling its demonstrations. Another group, the International Action Center, said it would instead hold a "march against war and racism" in Washington Sept. 29.
The 189 nations in the U.N. General Assembly met Monday in regional groups to discuss a postponement of the Sept. 24-Oct. 5 general debate, and there was virtually unanimous support for a delay because of the difficulties New York would face in providing security for visiting heads of state and government.
General Assembly President Han Seung-soo of South Korea said that after consulting the chairmen of the regional groups on Tuesday, a decision was made to reschedule the two-week session, which had been expected to bring about 50 world leaders to New York.
"The new dates for the general debate will be announced as soon as possible in close consultations with the host country and member states," Han said in a statement.
A General Assembly vote Wednesday is expected to endorse the postponement. But assembly spokesman Jan Fischer said it was unlikely a new date for the session would be determined at that time.
There are many other high-level meetings scheduled in the coming months, he explained, and "regional groups are looking at the implications of rescheduling."
While the United States did not ask for a delay, acting U.S. ambassador James Cunningham said "we've explained the reality of the capabilities that this city and the government can bear in terms of security, which are very limited under the circumstances."
Last week, he said "an obvious factor" was the destruction of the New York headquarters of the U.S. Secret Service as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Secret Service agents are responsible for guarding the president and visiting heads of state and government.
"It's asolutely normal that we give a chance to the city to go back to normalcy," Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali said Monday. "But...we cannot skip the general debate this year. That would be a sign of weakness in front of terrorism."
The Sept. 11 attacks delayed the opening of the new General Assembly session, scheduled for that day. Despite two evacuations of U.N. headquarters, both the General Assembly and the Security Council met Wednesday and passed strong resolutions condemning the attacks.
The General Assembly also postponed the U.N. children's summit, which would have brought 75 presidents and prime ministers to New York starting Wednesday.
Despite a postponement, Han said the assembly will go ahead with its work and some of its main committees may meet as early as next week.
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