DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) – Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the final session of the World Economic Forum on Sunday that he wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and a pact on climate change by the end of 2008.
Sharing the same level of ambition, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel called for China to open its doors to the Dalai Lama and for an end to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
The final session of this year's forum seemed to shrug off any pessimism about what can be achieved in the coming months despite fears that the U.S. economic downturn could lead to a global recession.
"The mood was moderately optimistic because we have many, many opportunities," said Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder. "But if we do not address the challenges, one day even the greatest opportunities will not be enough to guarantee our continuation as humankind if you look at climate change, terrorism, poverty."
The five-day political and economic brainstorming session that brought nearly 2,500 of the world's movers and shakers to this Swiss ski resort was short on "glitz" this year — with the exception of rock star Bono and Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, who are both also anti-poverty campaigners.
Politically, there was much talk about whether President Bush's goal of a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of the year will be reached.
"I would like to see an agreement that gives us the prospect of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine because I do think that would be the greatest signal of reconciliation with which the 21st century could start," said Blair, who is now the chief envoy for the key international Mideast mediators known as the Quartet.
Wiesel said he also wanted to see Mideast peace this year, and "to alleviate the suffering in Darfur which has become the capital of human suffering in the world today."
"I'd like China to open its doors to the Dalai Lama so I could accompany him to go to Tibet. That would be a great, great victory," Wiesel said, as the audience burst into applause.
Blair said he'd also "like to see us get the climate change deal or framework of it."
PepsiCo Inc. chief Indra Nooyi said she'd also like to see "a climate policy" and efforts to bring down rising food prices.
"We've taken years to get people out of poverty, give them a couple of meals a day when they were only eating one meal a day or less," she said. "We run the risk of slipping back to poverty if food prices are escalating much too fast."
Many participants touched on another major theme at Davos this year: how to stem terrorism.
Afghanistan's president warned that the world could suffer terribly from the "wildfire" of terrorism engulfing his region. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf pledged to "carry on the fight against terrorism and extremism."
Wiesel said the greatest threat to humanity today "is the globalization of fear because of terrorism" — especially suicide bombings and fanaticism.
"Somehow the future today is much more dangerous than it used to be because of people we don't know who have a cult of death … and practice the cult of death," he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended Bush's push for democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, and tried to calm economic fears, stressing that the U.S. economy is resilient and would remain an "engine of growth."
Whether the U.S. economy is heading toward recession — or just slowing down — and the likely impact on the rest of the world was the subject of intense discussion. There was much speculation about whether Asia's two giants, China and India, would be able to absorb some of the shock.
"I am optimistic about the future," Wang Jianzhou, chairman and CEO of China Mobile Communications Corp., told Sunday's closing session. "If there is the recession in the world, generally speaking it will have an impact on China, but I don't think it will be very big."
There would be a reduction in Chinese exports, "but we still have very, very strong domestic consumption," Wang said.