Iran’s president predicted the defeat of capitalism and blamed global big business for the suffering of millions, but Germany’s chancellor said market economies were key to lifting the world’s least developed countries out of poverty.
The clash of visions at the UN anti-poverty summit drew a line under the stark differences on easing the misery of the one billion people living on less than US$1.25 a day.
More than 140 presidents, prime ministers and kings are attending the three-day summit which started to assess and spur on achievement of UN targets set by world leaders in 2000.
The plan called for an intensive global campaign to ease poverty, disease and inequalities between rich and poor by 2015.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, never mentioned the Millennium Development Goals in his speech to the 192-member General Assembly.
Instead, he took aim at capitalism and called for the overhaul of “undemocratic and unjust” global decision-making bodies, which are dominated by the United States and other Western powers.
While Mr Ahmadinejad did not single out any country, he said world leaders, thinkers and global reformers should “spare no effort” to make practical plans for a new world order – reform of international economic and political institutions.
“It is my firm belief that in the new millennium, we need to revert to the divine mindset...based on the justice-seeking nature of mankind, and on the monotheistic world view...,” the Iranian leader said in a brief speech intertwining philosophy and religion with the current state of the world.
“Now that the discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat.”
Mr Ahmadinejad proposed that the United Nations name the coming 10 years “the decade for the joint global governance”.
Soon afterward, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s fourth-largest economic power, took an opposite tack, likely speaking for the rest of the capitalist world.
Stressing that “the primary responsibility for development lies with the governments of the developing countries,” she said the key to economic prosperity was good governance and a flourishing capitalist economy.
“The countries themselves must promote the development of a market economy...for without self-sustaining economic growth developing countries will find the road out of poverty and hunger too steep to travel,” Ms Merkel said.
The German leader said international assistance can not substitute for domestic resources, warned that “development aid cannot continue indefinitely” and declared that “support for good governance is as important as aid itself”.
Oxfam, one of the world’s most respect aid organisations, slammed Ms Merkel’s address.
Spokeswoman Emma Seery said more had been expected from the Germans, who “failed to explain how they will meet their promises of aid to poor countries, and sidestepped their responsibility to make aid work by laying this at the door of the poorest countries”.
Ms Seery also chided the German leader for not joining with France and Spain in calling for a small tax on financial transactions that would go to meet development needs of poor countries.
“Whether Germany can still claim to be a development leader is now questionable,” she said in an unusually blunt assessment of a government leader’s address.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world is “on track” to cut extreme poverty by half, the top goal, though some critics say it is mainly because of the big strides in China and India.
Many recent reports show that the world’s poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, made little progress in eradicating poverty.
And in Africa, Asia and Latin America there also has been a lack of progress in meeting other key goals: reducing mother and child deaths, increasing the number of people with access to basic sanitation, and promoting women’s equality.
Mr Ban is expected to launch a new initiative today to spur action on improving the lot of women and children.
In his speech, Mr Ahmadinejad did not mention Iran’s nuclear programme or the four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over Tehran’s refusal to prove it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. Iran claims it is only working on nuclear power to generate electricity.