Non-Aligned summit opens in Egypt

SHARM EL-SHEIK:  A summit of the Non-Aligned Movement opened at this Egyptian Red Sea resort town Wednesday with a call from Cuban President Raul Castro for a new international financial system to shield developing nations from the global recession.

Castro was addressing the opening session of the movement's two-day summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, the 15th such gathering since the group was founded in the 1950s.

"We demand the establishment of a new international financial and economic structure that relies on the participation of all countries," Castro said. "There must be a new framework that doesn't depend solely on the economic stability and the political decision of only one country," the Cuban leader said, apparently referring to the United States.

The new system, he said, must give developing countries "preferential treatment." He did not elaborate.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also touched on the global economic crisis when he addressed the summit, echoing Castro's demand that more must be done to protect the economies of developing nations and give them a bigger say.

"The economic crisis has revealed the need to improve the international financial architecture, so we may see the developing world and emerging powers gain more of a say in that realm," he said. "That would be a welcome step toward realizing the NAM's (Non-Aligned Movement's) long-standing goal of making the international system more fair and balanced."

Castro later handed the movement's presidency over to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country will head the group for the next three years. Egypt, India and the former Yugoslavia are the movement's founding members.

The 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement was born during the Cold War more than five decades ago as a group of countries that is neither allied with the U.S.-led camp or the Soviet bloc. A middle course, they argued then, was in their best interest.

However, the movement has lost much of its relevance when the Cold War ended nearly two decades ago. Made up mostly of African, Asian and Latin American nations, it has since become primarily an international speaking forum for developing nations.

Mubarak, in his address, recognized the "challenge" facing the movement's founding principles, which he said seek dialogue with the developed world. He also joined Castro in calling for the rehabilitation of the international financial system. Terrorism, nuclear weapons and the Palestinian issue are among issues requiring collective action, he said.

Castro's call for a new world financial system follows a similar demand by foreign ministers and senior officials from the movement who warned after four days of meetings here that the global financial crisis will adversely affect their developing nations the most. Joint action, they said, was needed to ward off its impact.

The summit's draft declaration also calls for the group to coordinate with China — attending the summit as an observer — to have their voices heard at international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The focus on the world economy coincides with U.S. efforts to build what it says is a stronger financial foundation for the world.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, the second and final day of a tour of Gulf Arab nations. He met Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and businessmen in the oil-rich kingdom and had a closed-door breakfast meeting Wednesday with the Emirates' Foreign Trade Minister Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi and other UAE officials.

"We of course want to not just address the immediate causes of the financial crisis," Geithner said after Wednesday's meeting. "We want to rebuild a stronger foundation for more balanced growth globally."

The prime ministers of nuclear powers Pakistan and India, meanwhile, were expected to meet on the sidelines of the summit in what would be one of the conference's highlights. The two leaders met in Russia last month for the first time since the Mumbai terror attacks last year, but they made little headway in defusing the tension in their relations.

India blamed Pakistan-trained militants for the attacks, which killed 166 people.

The two countries' foreign secretaries met for 90 minutes on the sidelines of the Sharm el-Sheik's meeting Tuesday night, apparently to prepare for Wednesday's meeting of the two prime ministers, according to a diplomat familiar with the meeting but who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.