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Saturday, April 1, 2023
Analysis by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2009 (IPS) - The two-week long high-level segment of the U.N. General Assembly, which concluded last week, was characterised by historic moments, political controversies, and at times, routine boredom.
The president of the 192-member General Assembly, Dr. Ali Treki of Libya, boasted that the meetings were attended by 75 heads of state, 33 prime ministers and vice presidents, and 67 foreign ministers.
Asked to comment about Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi's long-drawn-out 95-minute rant, which virtually wrecked the Assembly's schedule for the day, Treki told reporters Friday: "I am not going to answer that question."
A follow-up question on Qaddafi's relentless but unsuccessful search for a place to pitch his Bedouin tent in New York City also went unanswered.
"It does not come within my competence as president of the General Assembly," Treki brusquely told the reporter.
Still, before Qaddafi addressed the General Assembly, Treki introduced him as "the leader of the revolution and king of kings", a title partly bestowed by the 53-member African Union which the Libyan leader currently chairs.
The participation of Madagascar was called into question by only 23 out of 192 countries – reducing the vote to a political farce.
"This constitutes an affront to a universal organisation like the United Nations where the 'silent majority' was effectively reduced to silence," Ny Hasina Andriamanjato, the foreign minister of Madagascar said, in a letter of protest to Treki.
The letter also described the events in Madagascar as "a popular uprising", not a "military coup".
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another controversial star power, began addressing the Assembly, some of the Western delegates walked out in protest – primarily venting their anger at his repeated statements denying the holocaust.
Asked for his comments, Ahmadinejad told reporters he was not rattled by the incident and implied that the protest was a reflection, more on those who walked out, than on himself.
"Iran is a cultured nation," he said, "We have over 3,000 years of culture and civilisation."
Still, there were politically noteworthy moments, including a historic Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament presided over by Barack Obama, the first for a U.S. president.
Obama, who addressed a summit meeting on climate change and also the opening of the General Assembly sessions, visited the United Nations on three consecutive days, perhaps another first for a U.S. leader.
James A. Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum and a veteran U.N.-watcher, described last week's events as "probably the most dramatic opening of a General Assembly in recent memory".
To the credit of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said, the United Nations called a climate change conference that really attracted the big players and appeared to have moved the issue substantially forward.
"Certainly the outcome was far short of what we need, but there was tangible progress and new commitments that seemed to change the nature of the discussion," Paul told IPS.
Summing up the summit, the secretary general described it as "the largest-ever summit on the climate crisis".
"We laid a solid foundation toward the Copenhagen conference," Ban said, referring to the mid-December meeting that will negotiate a new global treaty on climate change.
Ban said that leaders focused on climate change financing, with many expressing support for a proposal for 100 billion dollars in funding annually over the next decade for concrete adaptation and mitigation actions.
He also said the Security Council meeting helped place nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation "front and centre" on the U.N. agenda.
The second part of the U.N. fireworks, Paul said, was the General Assembly opening itself.
"Its hard to assess the import of all the speeches and all the posturing that always takes place," he noted.
But this event will probably be remembered more than anything for the engagement by President Obama and the vastly more positive approach by the United States.
This includes, he said, even the possibility that the United States will lift the U.N.'s long financial crisis by finally paying its dues on time, in full and without conditions.
"Naturally, it's tempting to ascribe too much to the eloquent Obama and to imagine that at long last the U.S. will be a real multilateral player at the U.N.," Paul said.
That is very unlikely, and crises like Iran, Palestine and Honduras prove that the Obama administration has its own great power agenda.
But still, the U.N. will be a stronger and more relevant organisation in the post-Bush era, not just because of Obama's vision but also because the U.S. can no longer play the sole superpower in a rapidly changing world, Paul added.
In passing, he said, it is worth noting that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting with Ban Ki-moon on food security was another sign that Washington is using the U.N. more actively in its foreign policy.
"The U.N. outshone the trumpeted G20 meeting [of large economy leaders] in Pittsburgh and proved that it is important to have all the nations assembled in a serious institutional setting and not just a show for the press," Paul added.
No wonder even veteran U.N.-watchers were pleasantly surprised, he noted.
After a dynamic year in the last General Assembly, this was certainly a strong beginning for the new season, Paul declared.
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