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U.N. Faces a Mid-Life Crisis on 40th Birthday

Times Staff Writer

A four-day celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter ended here Wednesday, reflecting more the tensions within the world body today than the hopes for it 40 years ago.

Representatives from 94 countries attended a brief ceremony in San Francisco’s elegant Herbst Theater, where leaders from 50 countries had gathered in 1945 near the end of World War II to sign the charter for an organization they hoped would “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

In a brief address there Wednesday morning, Paul Firmino Lusaka of Zambia, president of the General Assembly, described the United Nations as a “good child that has done its best. At 40, this child has matured, but still needs much love, understanding and the support of all nations.”

During the three days of meetings preceding the Wednesday celebration, however, the United Nations appeared more to be an organization in mid-life crisis.

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“There are moments when I feel that the only thing that will restore the unanimity of the Security Council might be an invasion from outer space,” Brian Urquhart of Scotland, U.N. undersecretary general for special political affairs, said Tuesday.

The lack of unanimity was especially apparent during the conference in heated exchanges between delegates from the United States and the Soviet Union, the countries largely responsible for the birth of the United Nations. In 1944, a year before the original charter was signed, U.S. and Soviet officials, meeting at Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown section of Washington, created the framework for a centralized world peace agency.

On Monday, though, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Vernon A. Walters, launched a stinging anti-Communist attack. Without naming the Soviet Union, Walters said that Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, North America and Africa have “violated the rights of states, peoples and individuals to self-determination and security.”

U.S. Policy Attacked

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The following day, Soviet U.N. Representative Vsevolod Oleandrov attacked U.S. policy in the Mideast and Central America as “state terrorism.” Oleandrov said American policy was to blame for the hijacking of a TWA airliner by Shia Muslim terrorists, who now hold 39 America hostages in Beirut.

The issue of terrorism was very much on the minds of the 200 guests, mostly Americans, who paid $200 to attend the conference and were allowed to ask questions of the delegates. Many guests appeared frustrated when delegates criticized terrorism but could offer no concrete way in which the United Nations could help resolve the current hostage crisis.

Guests and delegates were also critical of the United Nations in other matters, such as its limited role in regulating nuclear weapons.

Educational Institution

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In defense of the United Nations, which has grown to 159 members, delegates noted that it was never meant to be a world government, but rather an educational institution providing essential humanitarian aid around the world.

“The United Nations is a club for the international community to get together and discuss,” said Oumarou Youssoufou, U.N. representative from Niger and executive secretary of the Organization of African Unity. “It’s very important to talk--venting frustrations has helped diminish many conflicts that could have developed into something more serious.”


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