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    UNIS/SG/2463
    1 December 1999
    Secretary-General Urges United States to Reject Isolationism, Recognize Its
    Interests often Match Those of United Nations 

     

    NEW YORK, 30 November (UN Headquarters) -- Seattle Speech Lauds Historic American Leadership, Instinctive Humanitarianism; Notes Demonstrated Public Support for World Body 

    This is the text of an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday (30 November) at an event sponsored by the Rotary Club of Seattle, Washington: 

    I am pleased to be here in Seattle at this time, and to have an opportunity to talk to you about the important role you have to play in the work of the United Nations. 

    First of all let me stress that I can think of no better place from which to launch the millennium round of trade talks than this great port and high-tech city. After all, a quarter of all the jobs in Washington State are tied directly to exports. Boeing jets have brought most of the delegates here. The area's renowned computer-based industries are changing the very face of international trade, not to mention politics, diplomacy and society in general. And let us not forget Seattle's favourite beverage, which is keeping us awake and energized through the long hours of negotiation. 

    So there is nothing that I can tell the people of Seattle about global interdependence that they don't know already.  Programmers in Bangalore; coffee growers in Bolivia; men and women in Seattle's sister cities from Beersheva to Kobe, Japan, are all as much a part of your community as the descendants of those who first came west in the gold rush. One can find the world here in Seattle, not just because of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, but every day of the year. 

    The sponsor of this event, the Rotary Club, is also very much at home in the world -- in 192 countries, to be exact, more than are members of the United Nations. Rotary Clubs around the world have given more than $400 million to the World Health Organization's efforts to eradicate polio. That is just one example of their good works and global solidarity. The Rotary Club of Seattle, for its part, is the largest in the world. From Africa to the Balkans and Central America, Rotarians are living up to their motto of placing "service above self", with an admirable emphasis on the world's young people. 

    That spirit -- that natural humanitarianism; that eager engagement with a diverse world; that pragmatic grasp of both risk and opportunity -- is something I find almost everywhere I have travelled in the United States. Be it Boston, Chicago, Houston or Miami, the American people's vital connection with the world is as much a part of the national character as barbecues and baseball. Your passports are up to date. 

    Public opinion polls routinely confirm what I myself have seen: that there is great support for a strong United Nations, and for the United States to cooperate with other countries through the United Nations. So I am pleased that the Congress has taken action on the question of United States payments to the United Nations. I am grateful to President Clinton and his foreign policy team as well as to members of the House and Senate for their determination to break this long-standing and debilitating impasse. My good friend Ambassador Holbrooke, who in a very short while has made his commitment loud and clear, said the United States and the United Nations were now "on the edge of a new relationship". 

    I agree that this is a turning point in the efforts to restore the United States to its natural leadership position at the United Nations. It concerns me that the legislation does not provide for full payment of the arrears, and includes a number of other terms and conditions that can only be resolved in negotiations between the United States and the other 187 Member States. I hope these negotiations can be completed speedily and successfully. We have much work to do; a world of urgent challenges awaits; and much depends on our making the UN - U.S. partnership as strong as it can be. 

    That is precisely where you, the people of Seattle, come in. We may be on the verge of putting the question of arrears behind us. But other hurdles remain in our path. You can help us overcome them. You are the electorate, after all; you are in the driver's seat. Washington needs to hear -- and heed -- your voices. 

    Washington needs to hear, for example, that you reject isolationism. I know that in the early part of this century isolationism was American policy. But that was years -- and worlds -- ago. In today's globalized world, and with a nation of America's global presence, "going it alone" or throwing up protectionist barriers are not viable options. Isolationism has run its course; today it is a fiction. 

    Washington also needs to hear that you favour multilateralism. Some suggest that the United States, as the only superpower, need not cooperate with others or should do so only on its own terms. But the United States itself, especially since spearheading the triumph over fascism in the Second World War, has a proud record of working closely with other nations to build a world of expanding democracy, growth and opportunity. 

    Moreover, most of the major problems we face today are of such complexity and scope that they cannot be addressed by any single nation acting on its own. Unilateralism, in the end, may be little more than wishful thinking. At its worst, it sets a bad precedent, offering a license for nations to flout global norms and ignore global rules. 

    So I hope we can move past the distracting debates over these questions and nurture the multilateral mind-set that will enable us to address the common challenges we face. 

    As we enter a new millennium, it is deeply disturbing to think that almost half of us -- nearly three billion out of the six billion – are in abject poverty, living on two dollars a day or less. It is shocking that people in so many places today are exposed to violence and discrimination. And it is worrying that the global environment seems to be changing, in a way which could destroy the homes and livelihoods of millions. Combating climate change, deforestation and the loss of biodiversity may yet prove to be the biggest challenges of all. 

    People all over the world look to the United Nations to protect them -- from hunger, disease, violence and natural disasters – whenever the task seems too big for nations, or regions, to handle alone. I know that the United Nations can seem ineffectual at times. That is why we continue to engage in a process of fundamental, top-to-bottom reform. The world has changed, and we must change with it and be willing to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes. 

    I know that the United Nations can also seem very remote. Our activities take place in conflict zones most Americans will rarely visit; in impoverished areas far from major tourist sites; or behind-the-scenes, in clinics and classrooms where progress occurs slowly, beyond the watch of the world's major media. I would like to suggest, however, that even here in the United States, you need look no further than your own day-to-day lives to experience the United Nations system at work. 

    When, for example, you make an overseas telephone call or watch the Olympics, the International Telecommunication Union has helped make your connection. When you fly abroad, the International Civil Aviation Organization has helped smooth your way by setting global standards for airline and airport safety. The Food and Agricultural Organization sets international norms for food additives and limits for pesticide residues. The International Labour Organization promotes safe working conditions. The World Intellectual Property Organization helps protect copyrights for American exports. 

    Such work has brought the United Nations and its family of specialized agencies seven Nobel peace prizes. Protecting refugees; promoting the health and education of children; stemming the proliferation of nuclear weapons -- Americans have been part of this global mission from the outset, recognizing that the national interest and the collective interest are often one and the same. My sincere hope is that we can continue this fruitful relationship. 

    Thirty-seven years ago, people from around the world came to Seattle for another pivotal global gathering: the Seattle World's Fair. The fair aimed to "help light the way to the year 2000". Technological marvels of the day were on display, such as touch-tone telephones and a supersonic jet. Computer designers at the time unveiled an extraordinary achievement: designing a computer small enough to fit into a medium-sized room. Now that was progress! 

    Today, another future is taking shape, here in Seattle and everywhere else. It is a future of ever growing connections among peoples and nations. A future of mutual dependencies, and of common vulnerabilities such as the proliferation of deadly disease and deadly weapons. A future in which public awareness of human rights is taking centre stage, and in which our very concepts of national sovereignty are undergoing dramatic transformations. It is, therefore, a future in which institutions of global cooperation and governance such as the United Nations will play a key role. 

    Seattle has an excellent track record of pointing the way to the world of tomorrow. I hope you will help do so again. 

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