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US Committed to Development, says Powell Amid Boos at Johannesburg Summit - 2002-09-04

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has told the World Summit on Sustainable Development that the United States is committed to development. But not all the delegates welcomed Mr. Powell's remarks.

Mr. Powell was repeatedly interrupted by boos and heckling from a generally hostile crowd, especially when he spoke about the sensitive issues of climate change, energy policy, and genetically modified food.

"The United States is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change. We are committed- We are committed," he repeated, as the crowd booed. "We are committed not just to rhetoric and to various goals; we are committed to a billion dollar program to develop and deploy advanced technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions."

Environmental activists chanted "down with Bush" and unfurled a banner reading "betrayed by governments." At least one protester was dragged out of the room by U.N. security.

Amid the criticism, Mr. Powell said the United States is committed to sustainable development. He focused on good governance and trade as engines for development.

Disregard for the environment threatens the world's natural resources and all who depend on them for food, fuel, shelter, and livelihood. Our challenge then is to widen the circle of development and include those who are left out," said Mr. Powell.

The secretary of state said the United States would increase development aid by 50 percent during the next three years. He said the money would only go to countries that are governed "fairly and wisely," with sound economic policies.

U.S. environmentalists wasted no time in blasting the secretary of state's speech. They blame the United States for what they see as the failure of the Johannesburg summit.

Leslie Fields of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth says the American negotiating team blocked key elements of the final summit declaration. "The Bush administration has been the single biggest obstacle toward achieving progress for the world summit," she said. "Its refusal to agree to substantial agreements on timetables and targets is particularly egregious given the disproportionate share of global resource consumption by the U.S."

The activists also blasted President Bush for sending Secretary of State Powell to the summit instead of coming himself. They say the president's absence speaks louder than Mr. Powell's words.