Dignitaries, potentates and assorted deep thinkers from Mikhail Gorbachev to Jane Goodall will gather here today to spend five days pondering the state of the world and eating fine cuisine prepared by celebrity chefs.
Billed as a forum to "build global consensus on the vision and priorities needed for the 21st Century," the sessions will feature onetime world leaders such as former President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, along with such familiar names as singer John Denver and economist Milton Friedman.
The forum is the first major event sponsored by the Gorbachev Foundation, a think tank created in 1992 by the former Soviet leader and headquartered at the new Presidio National Park in San Francisco. About 500 people paying as much as $5,000 each are expected to attend the talks at the Fairmont Hotel, advertised as the first of five annual gatherings.
"Leadership with a long-term global focus is lacking at this critical moment in history," said Jim Garrison, president of the foundation. "We are convening a global brain trust to focus on the principles, values and actions that should guide humanity as we enter the next century."
The eclectic guest list includes media mogul Ted Turner, billionaire David Packard, former Sen. Alan Cranston, scientist Carl Sagan, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and chef to the famous, Wolfgang Puck.
Part of the conference will be devoted to giving former Cold War-era leaders a chance to comment on the activities of their successors.
In an event akin to the three surviving Beatles appearing together in concert, Bush, Gorbachev and Thatcher will come together (without Ronald Reagan) for a televised panel discussion Sunday on "the world beyond the Cold War."
And yes, this is the same George Bush who once dismissed such looking ahead as "the vision thing."
But organizers of the conference say they are attempting to bridge the gap between the Cold War and the next century by inviting a number of future world leaders such as South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, heir-apparent to President Nelson Mandela; Kurt Biedenkopf, the up-and-coming premier of Saxony in the former East Germany, and Prince Sultan from Saudi Arabia, the first Muslim astronaut.
"Mr. Gorbachev and others felt we should bring together divergent views from around the world to look at the coming century and look at what is the vision necessary to replace that of the Cold War," said John Balbach, vice president of the Gorbachev Foundation.
Other participants include South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae Jung, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberrtu Menchu of Guatemala, conservationist Richard Leakey of Kenya, and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez.
Organizers say the forum will focus on seven themes: global security, "the crisis of spirit," economics for the next century, the environment, the future of science, leadership in the 21st Century, and what they call "the emerging civic society."