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Powell Discusses US Role in AIDS Fight at UN

Secretary of State Colin Powell has reaffirmed the United States' determination to continue playing a world-leading role in the fight against HIV-AIDS. He told Monday's special U.N. General Assembly session on the global pandemic that there are signs of progress in that battle.

Mr. Powell acknowledged that the number of AIDS deaths and infections has continued to spiral upward since the United Nations adopted its declaration of commitment against the disease two years ago.

But he nonetheless insisted that "important progress" has been made, including the growth of the U.N.'s Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from just a high-minded concept into a functioning entity that has disbursed nearly a billion and a half dollars for programs in more than 90 countries.

The secretary of state described AIDS as "more devastating" than any terrorist attack, conflict, or weapon of mass-destruction, and said the United States, for its part, intends to "remain at the forefront" of the worldwide effort to combat the crisis.

"In the face of preventable death and suffering, we have a moral duty to act, and we are acting," he said. "The United States remains the largest donor of bilateral HIV-AIDS assistance, providing almost half of all international HIV-AIDS funding in 2002. We have bilateral programs in over 75 countries. In January, President Bush announced his $15 billion, five-year, emergency plan for HIV-AIDS relief and in May it was signed into law with overwhelming congressional support. This plan [is] the largest-single commitment of funds in history for an international public-health initiative on a specific disease."

Though the Congress authorized only $2 billion of the administration's $3 billion AIDS request for the first year of the program, Mr. Powell said the U.S. funding will "steadily increase" in the remaining four years.

Earlier, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told officials here it didn't "make sense" to put $3 billion into the fund during the current year when he said its infrastructure is still in the "embryonic stages."

However, he said President Bush is "absolutely passionate" on the subject and said the full $15 billion will be allocated over the promised five-year period.

Mr. Thompson, who is board chairman of the global fund, urged European countries to step up their commitments to the program.

The AIDS address was the first event in a five-day round of U.N. diplomacy for Mr. Powell, who will meet dozens of visiting heads of state and foreign ministers to build support for the U.S.-backed Security Council resolution that would put Iraq peacekeeping under a U.N. umbrella.

He meets with his counterparts from the other four permanent Security Council member countries Thursday. On Friday Mr. Powell takes part in the first meeting since June of the Middle East "Quartet", made up of the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations, which authored the "road map" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.