“Whether we are operating at the national or global level, in a globalizing world more than ever before our touchstone must be the will of the people,” Mr. Annan told some 400 participants attending the meeting in Oslo as he began an official visit to Norway. The Secretary-General highlighted the many advantages of democratic governance within States, while pointing out that it was “just as important” internationally. He observed that despite significant advances, “democracy at the global level is far from what it could be.” The United Nations, for example, could be more democratic if the Security Council were reformed and made more representative of the UN membership as a whole. Recognizing that this matter must be decided by the Member States, he noted that “sadly, while almost all of them agree on the need for reform, agreement on the details remains elusive.” Looking beyond the Security Council, Mr. Annan pointed out that decisions affecting billions of people were taken in other institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the “Group of Eight” countries. “We would live in a better and fairer world – indeed, a more democratic world – if, in all those places, greater weight were given to the views and interests of the poor, who form a substantial majority of the human race,” he said. The Secretary-General lauded the Organization of African Unity (OAU) for taking the “courageous stand” of declaring that its summit meetings will no longer admit leaders who have come to power by unconstitutional means. “I look forward to the day when the General Assembly of the United Nations follows this fine example, for I have no doubt that its authority will be greatly strengthened when all the governments represented in it are themselves, clearly and unmistakably, representative of the peoples of the world,” he said. The conference, convened under the theme “the challenges of democratic governance in a globalizing world,” was opened by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and chaired by Foreign Minister Torbjorn Jagland. Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General held separate discussions with both of those officials, among other high-level contacts. Following his meeting with the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General told reporters that he had thanked Mr. Stoltenberg for “the contribution of Norway, not only for the fight against AIDS but in the whole area of economic and social development, the work you have done with us in the Middle East on peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” among other issues. Asked about the situation in the Middle East, the Secretary-General warned that measures must be taken to break the prevailing deadlock and prevent a deterioration. “What is essential is for all of us to recognize that the current impasse in the region cannot be allowed to persist,” he said. “It is dangerous, it is raising tensions in the region, and if we do not take concrete steps to contain it, it may spread to other parts of the region and beyond.” Tomorrow, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the President of Norway and other senior officials.