Johannesburg — The World Summit on Sustainable Development which opened in Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday, August 26, 2002 could be dominated by the conspicuous absence of the world's most powerful man, President George W.
Bush of the United States of America.
He will not be attending the biggest ever gathering of world leaders as, sources say, he is preoccupied with his fight against terrorism which has now shifted to the Islamic state of Iraq.
President Bush is the leader of the world's economic superpower and has been harshly critical of several items of the Johannes-burg Summit's agenda.
Netherlands' Minister of Environment, Jan Pronk who is also Special Envoy to the Summit of the UN Secretary-General, described Bush's stay away from the Summit as a 'bad sign'.
"I regret it. We have done a lot to try to push him into coming," he added.
However the Dutch Minister indicated that the visit of the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell to join other heads of states at the Summit shows that, "Powell is a person in the American Administration who has a vision oriented towards sustainable development and eradicating poverty."
South Africa's Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Zuma expressed optimism the summit would be a success despite Bush's absence.
She pointed out that the political will did not come from a single person despite his influence in the world, but would also come from the many other Americans attending the Summit
The Secretary-General of the Summit, Nitin Desai insisted that the degree of a country's commitment to the ideals of the Summit was not only determined by the presence of its leader, but was also determined by the presence and participation of other government members.
"In that respect I think the Americans have played a positive and constructive role," he added.
Sources indicated that the absence of Bush at the Summit was a terrible embarrassment for the South African President, Thabo Mbeki who was trying hard to engage leaders of the world's rich nations to endorse New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
The United States of America is also the world's leading emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases and the enemy of Kyoto protocol on climate change one of the issues to be discussed at the Summit.
The US and other developed countries were under attack from the Non-Governmental Organizations attending the Johannesburg Summit of wanting to "hijack" to promote their free trade agenda.
Some of the rich countries, during the preparations for the Summit objected to sections of the Summit's draft document endorsing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of the rich and poor countries to protect the global ecosystem. The document was endorsed by Rio Earth Summit ten years ago and President Bush's father George W.H. Bush who led the American Administration at the time refused to endorse some of its sections.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has identified five major areas in which the Summit can improve upon to achieve sustainable development.
They include water and sanitation, energy, health, agricultural productivity and biodiversity and ecosystem management.[WSSD]