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World leaders agree to fight terrorism but disagree on a definition

UNITED NATIONS—Leaders from around the world pledged solidarity against terrorism and applauded President Bush on Wednesday for expanding the fight to include attacking poverty and injustice.

Speaking to the largest gathering of world leaders in history, Bush outlined a strategy that involves both military force and policies that promote economic development and democratic values. More than 160 presidents, prime ministers and kings convened at the United Nations for a summit marking the organization's 60th anniversary.

"We know that this war will not be won by force of arms alone. We must defeat the terrorists on the battlefield, and we must also defeat them in the battle of ideas," he said. "We must change the conditions that allow terrorists to flourish and recruit."

Bush also used the opportunity to thank the more than 115 nations that offered help in the recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"We have witnessed the awesome power of nature—and the greater power of human compassion," he said. "To every nation, every province, and every community across the world that is standing with the American people in this hour of need, I offer the thanks of my nation."

The U.N. delegates, dressed in business attire, African robes, Arab head scarves and other native garb, gave Bush a noticeably more enthusiastic response than he received on some of his previous U.N. visits, especially during the run-up to war with Iraq.

"It was a very encouraging statement," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. "It touched the main features of whatever issues are on the table. He was feeling warm."

The extraordinary gathering at U.N. headquarters shut down the east side of Manhattan and disrupted traffic throughout the city. Security was even tighter than normal for the annual U.N. gathering.

The meeting was initially intended to focus on economic development, but those issues became wrapped into the larger concern about terrorism.

"Terrorism constitutes a direct attack on the values that the United Nations stands for," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "We must be at the forefront of the fight against terrorism."

Later Wednesday, the15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on nations to prohibit the incitement of terrorism.

Annan expressed frustration that the United Nations has not found an effective way to deal with the spread of nuclear weapons, an issue that many terrorism experts consider the biggest potential threat.

"We have allowed posturing to get in the way of results. This is inexcusable," Annan told U.N. delegates in unusually blunt language.

But the gathering exposed differences over the best way to deal with terrorism. Leaders from developing countries tended to put far more emphasis on attacking the root causes of terrorism, rather than the terrorists themselves.

In a forceful response, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said poverty, injustice, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and other problems are no excuse for terrorism. He said world leaders should not let pangs of conscience over global inequality distract them from the need to fight terrorists on all fronts.

"They exploit our hesitation. This is our weakness, and they know it, and we must unite against this ghastly game with our conscience," he said. "They use Iraq to divide us, just as they use Afghanistan, just as they use Palestine, where terrorism does not create progress, it destroys it."

In the days leading up to the summit, 191 nations negotiating a declaration for the leaders failed even to agree on a definition of terrorism.

The United States and other Western nations managed to expunge language favored by developing countries that would have exempted national liberation movements.

In return, the Western countries were forced to abandon their definition, which would have condemned any violence against civilians for political purposes as terrorism.

Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian, said the problem with the Western definition is that it "cancels" the right to self-determination. "We have to resist the occupation," he said, referring to Israel's occupation of lands claimed by the Palestinians.

Not all of the leaders greeted Bush warmly.

Iran's conservative new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized what he called American unilateralism and preference for pre-emptive military action. While he did not mention Bush or the United States by name, the target of his words was clear.

"Acceptance of unilateralism is exactly the negation of the United Nations and it's raison d'etre," Ahmadinejad said. The world body, he said, "should confront this malady."

No U.S. officials were in their seats in the General Assembly hall during the Iranian's brief speech.

Outside the U.N. building, protestors demonstrated Ahmadinejad's presence. Some carried photos of Reza Pahlavi, son of the late shah of Iran; others were from the People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group that is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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