Speaker: Jack Straw, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Mr President

May I begin by paying tribute to the extraordinary efforts of your predecessor, Jean Ping, principally on the Millennium Review Summit but also throughout the last year.

On behalf of the European Union, I would also like to express our sympathy and solidarity with the people of the United States and in particular the Southern Gulf States in their time of need.

Mr President

Two months ago, my first duty as Presidency of the European Union was to go to Srebrenica to mark the tenth anniversary of the massacre there – the worst in Europe since the end of the Second World War. More than 8000 people – mainly Muslim – were taken away and killed as the international community just stood to one side. For sure, we had shown the right conviction in words; but, shamefully, we had simply failed to act.

The lesson of that massacre – and of the even greater horror of Rwanda a year before – was that we all needed better means to turn our collective will into decisive action. And we in the European Union have learnt in the intervening period. Today the European Union is on the ground – as military, police or civilian presence – in Bosnia, Aceh, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, with the African Union, in Darfur.

I think too that the United Nations has learnt the lessons of the last decade. At the summit this week, we agreed the further steps that we need to take for the organisation to be more effective. But, of all of this, I believe that it will be the agreement on our Responsibility to Protect that will be seen in the future as the decision of greatest significance. If we follow through with that Responsibility to Protect, then never again will genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity be allowed to take place under our noses with nothing done.

The Responsibility to Protect is, of course, a reflection of our common morality. But it is also a recognition that the worl in which we now live is too small for us to be unaffected by or indifferent to the innocent victims of murder and of oppression.

This shrinking of the world has been as sudden as it has been profound. When the Berlin wall fell, a generation of ideological certainties was swept away. People could suddenly see partners where before they had glimpsed only adversaries. And, as that very visible barrier was noisily being breached, a revolution in information technology was quietly erasing the barriers of distance and of time. Continents and cultures are now cabled together and bound by trade and services in a way unimaginable only a decade ago.

In this new world, we can no longer safely tolerate the general threat which can come from a particular human tragedy – wherever it takes place. To a greater extent than ever before we share the same world – the same threats and responsibilities, the same opportunities and threats.

And precisely because the boundaries of our world have contracted, the horizons, the ambitions of many people across the globe have infinitely expanded. For the first time in our history, mankind has the ability to realise the potential of individuals in societies of all kinds and in every region through an open exchange of goods, investment, technology and, above all, of ideas.

Not least, in all this, it is the rise of India and China which is re-ordering the world economy. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty there and elsewhere. A new global market has been created which ignores the divide – which seemed fundamental for so many decades – between East and West.

Currently, not everyone has the chance to share in this. Much of sub-Saharan Africa remains blighted by poverty, disease and conflict. The European Union has now set a clear timetable to achieve the 0.7 per cent target for aid. Debt relief, trade reform and development aid are all vital. But none of these can work alone. Fundamental to making poverty history are the governments of the developing world themselves. And where governments fail, their own peoples are the victims – as UN Special envoy Anna Tibaijuka’s damning assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe only too graphically shows.

Sub-saharan Africa is not alone in being yet to achieve its potential. The American author Tom Friedman in his recent book "The World is Flat" highlights an extraordinary anomaly; it was the Arab peoples whose forebears devised algebra and the algorithms upon which our digital age is based, but these peoples are now right at the rear of the today’s technological revolution with one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world.

Three UNDP Arab Development Reports have now set out clearly how limted economic prospects and stunted political freedoms have led young and talented people towards alienation and disillusionment.

The answer to all this does not lie however in easy stereotypes about some clash of civilisations. It is the terrorists and preachers of hate who want us to believe that Islam and the West are fundamentally different. Theirs is a philosophy of mistrust and despair and we reject it utterly. Indonesia and Turkey, to name but two, are both striking examples of how countries with predominantly Muslim populations can embrace democracy and modernity. We in the European Union have seen in our own vibrant Muslim communities that Islamic and Western cultures can be partners in a global society.

Everyone knows that the Arab peoples want prosperity, freedom and democracy every bit as much as anyone in Europe or America. So the fact that the Arab world has such low scores in regional measurements of democratic practices, civil freedoms and good governance, is not, therefore, some cultural or religious inevitablity but a temporary failure of human will.

To do this, the international community has a responsibility to encourage regionally-led political, social and economic reform; and the European Union is and will be strongly supporting those reforms.

Equally it has been our active foreign policy which has placed us in the lead with regard to Iran, especially on the nuclear dossier. With Javier Solana, and my French and German colleagues, we have made detailed proposals for the relationship to be based on co-operation and on respect for international norms and treaties. Our proposals envisage a high-level, long-term political and security framework between the European Union and Iran, in which we would work together in political, economic, scientific and technological areas – including the civil nuclear field, in return for Iran providing guarantees about its intentions and capabilities concerning nuclear weapons. So we will listen very carefully and reflect on this afternoon’s speech by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

On Iraq, the European Union now has a comprehensive programme of engagement and has put behind it divisions over the military action two and a half years ago. We are supporting the goal of a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and stable nation.

We are also giving active support to the Quartet’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians; two states living side by side. We salute Prime Minister Sharon’s brave decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and we salute President Mahmoud Abbas’s work to build the first stage of an effective, viable Palestinian state.

Mr President

In July, the European Union again suffered the horror of a major terrorist atrocity. This time the target was my country – the United Kingdom, its capital, London. But none of us is safe from the threat of terror. International terrorism requires an international response; otherwise we all pay the price for each other’s vulnerabilities. The ratification of the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism is therefore of the highest priority.

But the threat from terrorists and the political instability they bring is made worse by the easy availability of weapons in what has become an anarchic, unregulated, international trade. These same weapons fuelled the killings in Rwanda and Bosnia a decade ago and are fuelling the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Darfur today.

We already have international instruments to regulate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We in the European Union have a comprehensive arms control regime. But I suggest to this General Assembly that the time has now come for this organisation to embrace the idea of an international Arms Trade Treaty which would build on and strengthen existing initiatives.

Mr President

It was in the killing fields of Europe, in two successive wars, that the twin ideas of the United Nations and of the European Union became imperative. The European Union’s commitment to the United Nations is profound – it has never been stronger – and is reflected in what we give in voluntary donations and to the regular budget and peacekeeping operations.

The United Nation’s fundamental purpose remains today what it was at its foundation – to remove the scourge of war, to reaffirm the worth of the human person, and to promote social progress and better standards of life. In this changed and changing world, it is the responsibility of us all to secure for the organisation the powers and resources to make sure that it achieves this aim.