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UN Envoys Begin Crisis Talks on Summit Action Plan

A core group of United Nations ambassadors has begun crucial talks aimed at rescuing next month's planned summit on U.N. reform. The talks are expected to continue right up to the opening of the summit.

Representatives of 32 countries sat down Monday in a race against time, trying to resolve vast differences over a plan of action to be adopted when world leaders gather at U.N. headquarters for a three-day meeting beginning September 14.

As he entered the meeting, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said he is prepared to negotiate as long as necessary. "We're looking forward to these negotiations. We sent around earlier today another dear colleague letter on the terrorism section that outlines the amendments we will seek in the negotiations, and explains on paper what our reasons are. We are flexible on format and process but we do want, in agreement with the Non-Aligned Movement, international negotiations on the entire text," he said.

The letter on terrorism circulated by Ambassador Bolton suggests that any action on a counterterrorism strategy should be postponed until after the summit, to allow the General Assembly time to debate it. It also calls for changes in the definition of terrorism to make clear that it refers only to actions taken by terrorists, and not to military activities that are governed by international humanitarian law.

Last week, Ambassador Bolton upset months of negotiations on a summit outcome document, offering hundreds of suggested amendments to a 38-page draft text. The Non-Aligned Movement of countries, represented in the meetings by Malaysia, Cuba and South Africa, had said they wanted the full text open for negotiation.

But many ambassadors worry that there is not enough time to address the many contentious issues in the two weeks before the summit opens. Several expressed fear that lack of agreement would be seen as an embarrassing failure for the more than 170 heads of state and government due to gather at U.N. headquarters to mark the world body's 60th anniversary.

Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima admitted Monday the talks are up against a tight deadline. "The time is rather getting short, but I hope and I trust that through this core group, small group, the task that is before us to complete and finalize its outcome document will be done, and expeditiously," he said.

In addition to the terrorism issue, the talks are focusing on the questions of disarmament and non-proliferation, prevention of genocide, establishment of a peace-building commission, restructuring the U.N. human rights mechanism, overhauling the world body's management procedures, and establishing a peace building commission to help countries emerging from conflict.

A U.S. mission official said Ambassador Bolton intends to issue a letter outlining Washington's position on each of the seven main issues. Several diplomats involved in the talks said they are prepared to work right up to the summit deadline if necessary to reach an agreement that heads of state and government can approve during next month's meeting.