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Annan Cuts Short Vacation with Summit Preparations in Jeopardy

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is cutting short a vacation in hopes of salvaging his vision of a reform package to be presented to a summit of world leaders next month. Crucial talks on a summit outcome document are proceeding urgently.

With 170 heads of state and government set to descend on New York September 14 for a meeting on U.N. reform, the shape of that reform remains in doubt.

Six months of work on a document laying out a vision for revitalizing the world body was thrown into turmoil last week when the United States submitted a list of hundreds of suggested changes.

General Assembly President Jean Ping, who has been leading the process of developing the document, hastily named a core group of about 30 nations to try to accommodate U.S. concerns. But Mr. Ping says the task of working out compromises is going to be a difficult task. "To start a process like that, to be accepted, took a week to explain to everybody where we want to go, and to be accepted, this process has been accepted. Yesterday we started. It is not easy to start, but we have started and we are moving," he said.

With the outcome of the summit in jeopardy, U.N. spokesman Marie Okabe said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was cutting short his vacation to join the negotiating process. "The secretary-general … has decided to interrupt his vacation to take stock of progress toward the 2005 World Summit and to support the president of the General Assembly in his efforts to ensure a successful summit," she said.

As the core group negotiations swung into high gear Tuesday, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was sending letters to envoys of other member states laying out U.S. positions on seven key issues being discussed. He said he is prepared to work as long as it takes to reach agreement.

On one of the most contentious issues, development, the U.S. proposal all but eliminates any reference to Secretary-General Annan's anti-poverty strategy, known as the Millennium Development Goals. The goals featured prominently in earlier drafts of a summit outcome document, and spokesman Okabe conceded Tuesday that deleting them would be a blow to Mr. Annan. "The secretary-general and the United Nations stand fully behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are internationally accepted and have broad support of member states and civil society. Any effort to eliminate MDGs from the summit outcome would be setback to the global fight against poverty and for the billions living in poverty," she said.

Diplomats from several countries involved in the negotiations have expressed frustration at having to negotiate issues they thought had already been settled. As he entered the core group talks Tuesday, Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, called on all countries to compromise. "If we don't get what we aspire for in development, don't expect us to be giving away any other things in weapons of mass destruction, security, in other parts, and it's not only our position, it's the position of everybody. We didn't come here to present our point of view and say we stick to our point of view and we don't want to change it. We came here to make compromises, we came here to make things better," he said.

U.N. officials say agreement in the negotiations is needed within the next several days if an outcome document is to be ready in time for the summit. But U.S. mission spokesman Richard Grenell said Tuesday the United States sees the outcome document as only a first step toward U.N. reform, and expects negotiations to continue long after the summit is over.