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UN Debate Covers Climate Change, Sudan, Middle East

Sudan, Iraq, the Middle East and global climate change dominated Friday's U.N. General Assembly session.

Two of the U.N.'s five permanent Security Council members, China and Britain headed Friday's speakers' list.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing touched on a wide range of foreign policy priorities. He reiterated Beijing's commitment to the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, urged Iran to meet its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and called the Palestinian question the core of the Middle East issue.

Indicating China's growing economic power, Mr. Li said Beijing is ready to finance a larger share of the world body's budget. He spoke through an interpreter. "As China's economy grows, we are prepared to increase our contribution to the U.N. budget in accordance with the principle of the ability to pay," he said.

The United States is the largest contributor to the U.N. budget, paying 22 percent, or $417 million this year. Other permanent members Britain and France each pay about six percent, while Russia and China each pick up less than two percent of the bill.

Japan, which pays 19 percent, has argued that its contribution warrants a permanent Council seat.

Mr. Li suggested in his Assembly speech that China would use its veto power to ensure that the Council chooses an Asian as the next secretary-general. According to a U.N. tradition of regional rotation, it is Asia's turn to lead the world body.

The process of selecting a successor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan is said to be in its final stage.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett devoted nearly half her Assembly speech to the challenge of global climate change. She warned that warming temperatures are a threat to international security. "Potentially, this could cause massive damage to some of the key urban centers of our global civilization. London, yes, but Shanghai, Dhaka, Singapore, Amsterdam, Cairo, and yes, Manhattan are all at risk," he said.

Beckett pointed to China as an example of the dilemma facing the developing world. She noted that while China's economy grows rapidly, its use of fossil fuels is growing at a similarly rapid rate.

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani addressed the Assembly earlier. He said the U.S.-led international force in his country remains essential, and ruled out setting a timetable for its withdrawal until security conditions improve.

"Those forces are essential for us in the present circumstances as we accomplish the mission of building our armed forces that are capable of ending terrorism and maintaining stability and security. Only then will it be possible to talk of a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq," he said.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili opened Friday's debate. He accused Russia of violating international law by interfering in Georgia's internal affairs in its breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

Sudan was a recurring theme in many of Friday's Assembly speeches, with several ministers urging prompt action to halt the violence in Darfur.

On the sidelines of the debate, the United States and Denmark hosted ministers and representatives of 20 countries to increase pressure on Khartoum to accept the presence of 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers in the war-ravaged region.

Earlier in the week, sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejected U.N. troops, saying they would be seen as foreign invaders, despite growing evidence that genocide is occurring in Darfur.