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U.S. Balks On Anti-Hunger Pledge

the 39 floor Secretariat building at the United Nations headquarters.
CBS/AP
The presidents of Brazil and France inspired 110 countries to back a new declaration to fight hunger and poverty and to increase funds for development, but the United States was not among them.

More than 50 heads of state and government joined a debate Monday at the United Nations that focused on the impact of globalization and on ways to finance the war against poverty.

French President Jacques Chirac called the pledge to take action "unprecedented."

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared that "the issue of hunger has once and for all become a political priority."

Asked whether he was concerned by the lack of U.S. support for the initiative that he launched, Silva told journalists that the United States had taken an important step by sending a representative.

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said during Monday's debate that her government objected to proposals for international taxes, saying that they would be inherently undemocratic and impossible to implement.

President Bush skipped the two high-level meetings, but his speech at the annual meeting of the General Assembly on Tuesday also will emphasize international humanitarian concerns as the world body begins two weeks of meetings amid an upsurge of violence in Iraq and a massive humanitarian crisis in western Sudan.

One session focused on a U.N. report, released in February, that said the income gap between the richest and poorest countries has widened during the past four decades and that the vast majority of the world's population could fail to see the benefits of globalization. More than 1 billion people were living on less than $1 per day in 2000, the report said.

Chirac, who traveled to New York solely for Monday's meetings, said he and Silva would propose new approaches to fund the alleviation of poverty, although the meetings resulted in no specific proposals.

"I believe taxation is a necessity," he said at a press conference following the meeting.

The large number of supporters for the declaration creates "a new political situation" for the United States, Chirac said.

"You can't oppose that forever," he declared.

The French president, the most outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, was to head back to Paris Monday night and won't cross paths with Mr. Bush.

The U.S. president, who has focused on Iraq in his last two speeches to the General Assembly, is making a dramatic shift this year. He said in his radio broadcast Saturday he would "talk about the great possibilities of our time to improve health, expand prosperity and extend freedom in the world."

Monday's meeting was aimed at setting the stage for a General Assembly summit next year to assess progress toward meeting the goals of the 2000 Millennium Summit. Those goals include halving the number of people living in dire poverty from 2000 levels, and ensuring that all children have an elementary school education, that all families have clean water and that the AIDS epidemic is halted — all by 2015.

"Progress in eradicating extreme poverty has been uneven," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during the meeting. "With creativity and political will, we could do much better."

The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, which was established in 2002 by the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, urged policy-makers in the February report to set fairer rules for trade and immigration so that millions of people can benefit — not suffer — from globalization.

Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who chairs the commission with Finland's President Tarja Halonen, said the disparities between the world's rich and poor countries was politically unsustainable.

"For me and for the people of Africa, the status quo is not an option," he said. "It is verily unacceptable."

The final declaration didn't focus on a specific proposal but committed governments to take "resolute and urgent actions" to ensure that the 2015 goals are met, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest.

"The greatest scandal is not that hunger exists, but that it persists even when we have the means to eliminate it," the declaration says. "It is time to take action. Hunger cannot wait."