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United Nations Session Opens Amid Debate Over Future

President Bush will hold multilateral talks with world leaders at the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly. Analysts debate on whether the U.N. can handle crises such as those in the Middle East and in Darfur.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    A testing time for the United Nations. We begin with some background from NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    New Yorkers braced for security and traffic gridlock as world leaders descended for the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.

    In its 60th year, the world organization is under revived pressure to resolve conflicts old and new around the world. Chief among them is stopping the murder and carnage in the Darfur region of Sudan by trying to persuade or force the Sudanese government to accept a U.N. peace force there. Darfur was the first order of business at the U.N. Security Council today.

    During a press conference last Friday, President Bush said the United Nations has been slow to end the crisis.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I'm frustrated with the United Nations in regards to Darfur. I have said — and this government has said — there's genocide taking place in the Sudan. The problem is, is that the United Nations hasn't acted.

    And so I can understand why those who are concerned about Darfur are frustrated. I am. I'd like to see more robust United Nations action. What you'll hear is, "Well, the government of Sudan must invite the United Nations in for us to act." Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a resolution saying, "We're coming in with a U.N. force in order to save lives."

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Darfur has been a top priority for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will be presiding over his last General Assembly after two five-year terms. But in recent weeks, Annan has been most visible and active trying to secure the fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon; that includes the deployment of an international peacekeeping force there.

  • KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary-General:

    Almost every leader I have met felt that Lebanon was a wake-up call and we should really focus on stabilizing the situation in Lebanon and the relations between Lebanon and Israel, but not stop there, build on from there to deal with other conflicts in the region, Palestine, the Golan Heights.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    For much of the year, Annan has been leading an effort to change the way the U.N. and its vast bureaucracy work, a reform effort that has put the developing world at odds with the U.S., the leading proponent of reform.

    Heading that U.S. effort has been its ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. But Bolton's future is in doubt, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed to confirm his nomination. He has been serving since August 2005 under a recess appointment.

    Tomorrow's opening session of the General Assembly promises its own theater. President Bush speaks in the morning, addressing the issue of terrorism. He will be followed seven hours later by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had proposed the two of them hold a debate there. Mr. Bush has said he has no plans to meet the Iranian leader.

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