21 September 1998
("Terror has become the world's problem," Clinton declares) (970) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- "Terror has become the world's problem," President Clinton told the delegates from 185 nations gathered for the opening of the 53rd UN General Assembly September 21. "When it comes to terrorism there should be no dividing line between Muslims and Jews, Protestants and Catholics, Serbs and Albanians, developed societies and emerging countries, the president said in his annual address to the United Nations. "The only dividing line is between those who practice, support, or tolerate terror and those who understand that it is murder, plain and simple." Clinton received a standing ovation from the heads of state and foreign ministers when he entered the General Assembly hall. Clinton devoted the bulk of his speech -- his sixth to the opening General Assembly session -- to a discussion of terrorism and the common obligation of the international body to put the fight against terrorism at the top of its agenda. Urging nations "to think in new terms on terrorism," he stressed that terrorism saps the promise, hopes, and potential for a better life for people all over the world. The fight against terrorism will not be easy, the president said, "but every nation will be strengthened in joining it." Terrorism, the president said, is not "a clash of cultures or political action by other means, or a divine calling, but a clash between the forces of the past and the forces of the future, between those who tear down and those who build up, between hope and fear, chaos and community." "It is a grave misconception to see terrorism as only or mostly an American problem," he said. "Indeed, it is a clear and present danger to tolerant and open societies and innocent people everywhere. No one in this room nor the people you represent are immune." Mentioning flashes of terrorism around the world in the past several years from Cairo to Tokyo, Clinton said that every victim was "a human life extinguished by hatred, leaving a circle of people whose lives will never be the same." New technology coupled with increasing mobility of terrorists "raise chilling prospects of vulnerability to chemical, biological, and other kinds of attacks bringing each of us into the category of possible victims," Clinton pointed out. "The question is not only how many lives have been lost in each attack, but how many futures were lost in their aftermath," the president said. "There is no justification for killing innocents. Ideology, religion, and politics, even depravation and righteous grievance, do not justify it." Because the United States is "blessed to be a wealthy nation with a powerful military and a worldwide presence active in promoting peace and security, we are often a target," the president said. "We love our country for its dedication to religious and political freedom, to economic opportunity, to respect for the rights of the individual. But we know many people see us as a symbol of a system and values they reject and often they find it expedient to blame us for problems with deep roots elsewhere," he said. "But we are no threat to any peaceful nation, and we believe the best way to disprove these claims is to continue our work for peace and prosperity around the world," the president said. Resolute opposition to terrorism does not mean ignoring the conditions that foster it, be they ancient hatreds, poverty, inequality, or even the clash of civilizations, he said. "False prophets may use and abuse any religion to justify whatever political objectives they have -- even cold-blooded murder. Some may have the world believe that almighty God himself, the merciful, grants license to kill. But that is not our understanding of Islam," Clinton said. "As I talked to Muslim leaders in my country and around the world, I see again that we share the same hopes and aspirations: to live in peace and security, to provide for our children, to follow the faith of our choosing, to build a better life," he continued. "There are important differences that cross race and culture and religion which demand understanding and deserve respect," the president said. "But every river has a crossing place." Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the day's events also mentioning the threat of "uncivil society: the networks of terrorism, trafficking -- in human beings as well as illicit substances -- and organized crime." "Terrorism is a global menace, which clearly calls for global action. Individual actions by member states whether aimed at state or non-state actors cannot in themselves provide a solution," the secretary general said. "We must meet this threat together," he said. Noting that there has been a dramatic increase in attacks on UN personnel and humanitarian aid workers, Annan pointed out that regrettably the perpetrators of such acts are almost never brought to justice. Clinton did not mention the U.S.-UN financial controversy stemming from the U.S. debt to the world body of more than $1,000 million. But the secretary general did, saying that "the single greatest impediment to good performance is the financial straitjacket within which we are obliged to operate. Financial stringency is a feature of today's world....But without money there can be no value." "Stringency is one thing; a starvation diet quite another," he said. The secretary general also proposed that at the 55th assembly session, which will occur in the year 2000, he present a report outlining a set of workable objectives as the UN moves into the next century. "What we must do is identify a select few of the world's most pressing problems and set ourselves a precise, achievable program for dealing with them," the secretary general said.