U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday it was time to "rebalance" the international agenda after the war in Iraq to prevent the fight against terrorism from worsening global divisions.
His warning at the World Economic Forum preceded a call by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for the "entirety of the world community" to help eliminate terrorism and establish freedom in Iraq.
The aftermath of the war and dealing with the threat of terrorism has been a running theme this year at the annual gathering of global business and political leaders in this Alpine resort.
On the sidelines, government ministers sought a way to revive global trade talks.
Ashcroft acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition faced problems in postwar Iraq. "It's not easy to establish freedom in the midst of terror," he said. "Freedom has never been free."
Yet he noted how the world overcame "many inefficiencies and difficulties" in helping Europe recover after World War II and called for the same commitment to rebuilding Iraq.
"The way we're going to get this done is with ... the help of the world community," he said. "It's only way it's ever been done. And it's never been done perfectly. But that shouldn't dissuade us. ...
"We need the help of the entirety of the world community in the war against terror and in the war to replace the rule of terror with the rule of law," he added.
Just a few hours earlier, however, the U.N. chief warned about the dangers of a single-minded focus on security at the expense of other global problems.
International terrorism "has the potential to exacerbate cultural, religious and ethnic dividing lines," Annan said. "And the war against terrorism can also aggravate those tensions as well as raising concerns about protection of human rights and civil liberties."
He said it was "time to rebalance the international agenda" toward goals set at the Millennium Summit in 2000 to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015.
"The most privileged members" of the United Nations are "currently and understandably preoccupied with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," Annan said.
But "the U.N. must also protect millions of our fellow men and women from the more familiar threats of poverty, hunger and deadly diseases."
Top priority, he said, was a global trade deal "that will help the poor" by eliminating subsidies rich countries give to their farmers, to the detriment of those in poorer countries.
A fight over agricultural subsidies was blamed for the collapse of World Trade Organization talks last year.
Government ministers are using the annual forum of political and business leaders to try to revive the negotiations, which are supposed to lead to a binding treaty by the end of the year.
More than 20 ministers gathered Friday at the invitation of Swiss President Joseph Deiss to discuss how to move forward.
"The world has so much to gain if we can come to an agreement and so much to lose if we don't" Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.
"Agricultural subsidies are costing the world over a billion dollars a day. We have an obligation to redirect those funds to the global economy and those who need it most."
However, the top trade officials of the two biggest WTO members — the United States and the European Union — are missing from the meeting, represented instead by their WTO ambassadors.
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said he still believed the organization could meet the deadline of the end of the year.
"I guess if the political will is there, if people do as they say they are going to do and give instructions to the Geneva people we should have more than enough time to finish," he said.
Back at the main forum, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans told edgy business leaders that the U.S. recovery was "strong and getting stronger" — enough so to finally begin adding new jobs. "The jobs are coming," he said.
He said low inflation will continue to let the United States stimulate the economy with low interest rates and fiscal stimulus.
"So I'm one that's optimistic," he said. "I feel like inflation is in check and will remain in check for quite some time — and will give us the room to pursue the kind of pro-growth fiscal and monetary policy that we have been pursuing."
He got a quick response from U.S. labor leader John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO union grouping, who said "the jobs record is the worst of any administration since the Great Depression" and decried a "tidal wave" of good jobs moving offshore to lower wage countries.
By Naomi Koppel