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Annan addresses US public through nationally broadcast 'Town Hall' meeting

Annan addresses US public through nationally broadcast 'Town Hall' meeting

Kofi Annan with moderator Walter Cronkite
Exactly one month after the worst terrorist attacks in history against the United States, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today addressed the country's public through a nationally broadcast "Town Hall" meeting, answering questions on a wide range of issues.

The event, which was moderated by Walter Cronkite, connected the Secretary-General via satellite link with viewers from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa.

In an opening video message, US Secretary of State Colin Powell lauded the UN's swift response to the 11 September attacks, recalling that the Secretary-General, the General Assembly and the Security Council had all immediately and categorically condemned terrorism and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Going further, Secretary Powell said that "beyond its invaluable contributions to the global campaign against terrorism, the United Nations is making a difference in the daily lives of ordinary men and women all around the globe in a host of other ways - whether it's disaster relief, peacekeeping, the worldwide fight against infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, the setting of technical and legal standards that underpin the international system, or fostering good governance and sustainable development - all of these things show what the UN is capable of doing."

Opening the dialogue, Mr. Cronkite asked what the UN had done in response to international terrorism. The Secretary-General replied that immediately after the attack on the US, "all 189 Member States rallied in a manner that we have not seen in this house before." The Security Council and General Assembly both passed resolutions condemning the attacks within 24 hours. "What the UN is able to do is to provide a basis for that broad international coalition that we are putting together to fight terrorism," he said.

To a question on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General said the country "has suffered a great deal in the past two decades, having been through many wars, having seen drought in the last couple of years." He detailed the UN's aid effort, including the delivery of relief supplies. "We had to suspend the food deliveries because of the military action but we resumed them again yesterday, and we are beginning to move in about 1,000 tonnes a day." He added that some 60,000 tonnes per month were needed to feed the Afghan population, "so we are planning to step up our delivery as soon as the situation permits."

"We are determined to work with the international community to ensure that the Afghan population does not suffer as a result of the fight against Al-Qaida; after all they are not the intended targets, and we need to make sure that we look after their needs," Mr. Annan said.

Responding to a question on how the battle against terrorism is affecting the Organization's work, the Secretary-General said "the UN's other activities - fighting poverty, helping resolve conflict, fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS are equally important." He added that it was crucial to tackle the root causes of conditions that breed desperation.

Mr. Annan also emphasized that those who had committed crimes against the US must be dealt with, but they must not be confused with Islam or a particular religion. "Whatever response we take, we have to be careful not to increase divisions within societies and between countries," he said. "That message of tolerance - that message to everyone to accept and appreciate and celebrate our diversity as part of human existence - is going to be very important."

A participant asked the Secretary-General about a recent poll showing that nine out of ten US citizens think the UN should play a major role in keeping nations united in the fight against terrorism. "I'm delighted with the results of the poll because I believe if we are going to defeat terrorism, we need to cooperate across borders," he replied. "We either cooperate in this struggle and win or we don't win at all."

The Town Hall meeting was produced by The Better World Campaign, a project of the Better World Fund, a sister organization to the United Nations Foundation. The Fund was created from a portion of an initial gift of $1 billion from American philanthropist and businessman Ted Turner. The organization is a bi-partisan, non-profit education and outreach initiative that aims to enhance awareness and appreciation for the work of the UN and the role it plays in international affairs.