Former President Bill Clinton launched an initiative Friday to address poverty, climate change and other global issues that he hopes will foster discussion and action across borders. Participants include Britain's prime minister, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the secretary general of the Arab League.

The forum, which coincides with a summit marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, touched on topics ranging from energy and trade to how to build a bridge between western culture and Islam.

While the U.N. summit seeks answers for the main challenges facing the planet, such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism and the fight against poverty and disease, Mr. Clinton hopes to secure concrete commitments to address the problems.

A Friday morning panel discussion took on the issue of religious fanaticism around the globe. Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is essential in dealing with Muslim extremism in the Middle East.

Mr. Moussa says, "We need the reform, and in economic and in the social and in the democracy and humanity. But don't take us wrong, we are not going to abandon the Palestinian question, the general atmosphere in the region that will help all of us is to solve the Arab-Israeli question."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dismissed the idea that the Arab-Israel conflict plays a central role in the emergence of Muslim fanaticism. "I think a real role for leadership, particularly in the Islamic world, as well as elsewhere, is to end this equivocation, this sense that allows extremism to be excused by reference to the the Arab-Israeli conflict or by what the West is doing and so on," says Mr. Straw.

Mr. Clinton and his aides said the conference was about more than discussions of what they call "pro-poor investment strategies" and interfaith partnerships. The corporate executives and leaders of nonprofit groups invited to attend were also asked to make financial contributions.

Organizers say more than 50 commitments totaling $300 million have already been made. A $100 million investment fund has been established for businesses in Africa. The three-day session ends Saturday with speeches by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Mr. Clinton.

Aides to the former president said he and his staff would keep in touch with the pledge-makers to see that the commitments are carried out.