UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ President Clinton challenged the United Nations and countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere on Tuesday to strengthen their ability to stop mass killings like those in Kosovo and East Timor.

The United States ``cannot respond to every humanitarian catastrophe in the world,'' he told the General Assembly. ``We cannot do everything everywhere.''

Clinton also urged the world body to engage in an all-out battle against poverty for the 21st century and to ``assure that weapons of mass destruction will never be used on our children.''

``Let us resolve in the bright dawn of this new millennium to bring an era in which our desire to create will overwhelm our capacity to destroy,'' Clinton told the 188-member body.

His voice hoarse, apparently from allergies, Clinton coughed and cleared his throat as he spoke.

Clinton suggested the United Nations play an expanded role in preventing mass slaughter and dislocation.

``When we are faced with the deliberate organized campaigns to murder whole peoples or expel them from their land, the care of victims is important, but not enough. We should work to end the violence,'' he said.

Among other things, Clinton said, ``we need international forces with the training to fill the gap between local police and military peacekeepers.''

``Our response in every case cannot or should not be the same,'' he said. ``Sometimes collective military force is both appropriate and feasible. Sometimes concerted economic and political pressure combined with diplomacy is a better answer, as it was in making possible the introduction of forces to East Timor.''

Clinton touched lightly on two contentious issues: a disagreement over Iraq and the failure of the United States to make more than $1 billion in delinquent U.N. payments.

The Clinton administration is willing to ease the sanctions only if Iraq agrees to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country.

But the Security Council remains deadlocked. Russia, China and France _ each wielding veto powers _ have expressed sympathy with Baghdad's call for an immediate easing of the sanctions that have been in place since the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

In nearly three hours of talks Monday night, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright failed to budge Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, said a U.S. official. That clouded the prospect for the Security Council adopting a renewal of the inspections that were halted in December.

Said Clinton: ``Despite all the obstacles Saddam Hussein has placed in our path, we must continue to ease the suffering of the people of Iraq. At the same time, we cannot allow the government of Iraq to flout 40 _ and I say 40 _ successive U.N. Security Council resolutions and to rebuild his arsenal.''

Clinton also apologized for the U.S. delinquency on back payments.

``I have strongly supported the United States meeting all its financial obligations to the United Nations, and I will continue to do so,'' he said. ``We will do our very best to succeed this year.''

The administration has pledged to pay the arrears, some dating to the 1980s, but has been blocked repeatedly by congressional conservatives.

Rep. Chris Smith, N.J., complained that Clinton vetoed a bill last year that would have paid the U.N. arrears and required U.N. reforms. The president objected to a Smith-sponsored anti-abortion amendment to the bill that would have barred U.S. funds for international family planning organizations.

``We already have provided it once and he vetoed it,'' Smith said in an interview. ``There needs to be accountability'' on U.N. spending, he added.

If a sizable installment isn't made by year's end, the United States will lose its vote in the General Assembly. Its Security Council vote would not be affected, however.

The U.S. tardiness in payments wasn't lost on other members, even allies.

Tarja Halonen, Finland's foreign minister, told the General Assembly the United Nations needs ``a stable financial basis ... and unconditional payment of contributions to the U.N. by all.''

``Unilateral decisions and actions to the contrary are not allowed,'' she said. Finland currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Clinton proposed that the world community ``wage an unrelenting battle against poverty'' as it enters the new millennium.

Despite quantum advances in technology and the globalization of the world economy, 1.3 billion people live on less than $1 a day, Clinton said.

He announced he would convene a White House conference of public health experts, pharmaceutical companies and foundation representatives to encourage production of vaccines for developing countries.

Other speakers also sounded Clinton's call for more involvement in preventing humanitarian catastrophes _ but with a different emphasis.

Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, suggested the international community do more to combat terrorism, which he suggested included ``aggressive separatism.''

``The international community and, first of all, the United Nations, should decisively clamp down on any manifestations of separatism,'' he said.

Moscow blames recent bombings in Moscow, and an escalation of the conflict in Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, on seccessionist-minded Islamic militants.

Ghana's foreign minister, James Victor Gbeho, urged the world body ``to do in Africa as much as it has done in other areas,'' including the Balkans. He suggested the United Nations was paying only lukewarm attention to humanitarian crises there.