UN debate marks progress in world trouble spots

UN General Assembly president John Ashe (right) and UN Under Secretary-General Tegegnework Gettu at the 68th sessiion of the UNGA on Tuesday.  

The annual high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly closed on Tuesday marking a successful week of international discussions and meetings between heads of states that opened new avenues for diplomatic solutions in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

The summit led to a U.N. Security Council resolution to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, to thawing relations between the U.S. and Iran, and to a renewed focus on diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians and improving relations between India and Pakistan.

On a less positive note, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against the U.S.-Iran detente, arguing that Tehran continues to pose an existential threat to his country.

The outcome contrasted with last year’s General Assembly turmoil over the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on recognition as a non-member state of the world body -- a status it achieved in November in the Assembly.

Political leaders gathered last Tuesday under the shadow of the Syrian crisis, with the U.N. Security Council deadlocked over a resolution that would demand that Damascus hand over its chemical weapons.

On Thursday, however, the council’s five permanent members agreed on a draft resolution brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov -- a swift move to combat mounting accusations of the council’s ineffectiveness.

By Friday night, the 15-members adopted the resolution -- also approved by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at the Hague -- to verify and destroy all chemical weapons in Syria.

The council threatened punitive measures for failure to comply with the timetable. On Tuesday, UN and OPCW inspectors arrived in Syria for the mission.

“We say with one voice that chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” said British Foreign Minister William Hague.

U.S. President Barack Obama had proposed military action to stop the Syrian government from using chemical weapons, a threat that some said put added pressure on the council to act.

The thaw in the tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran culminated in a phone call between Mr. Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday, the first such communication between a US and Iranian president since 1979.

Mr. Rouhani was the darling of the U.S. media through the week with his positive expressions of a new opening. Still, the move surprised many after expectations that the two men might at least shake hands were dashed.

“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is not guaranteed, I believe we can reach a constructive solution,” Mr. Obama told reporters after the phone call.

Mr. Rouhani insisted that his election in June had created the “environment” for negotiations to end the dispute over his country’s nuclear programme. But crippling sanctions that have exiled Iran from the international banking community have also put huge pressure on the country, sanctions experts say.

Mr. Rouhani told reporters he was “personally satisfied with the first steps taken ... to ensure that both sides will proceed in a way to build a better relationship.” Western officials described a meeting with Iran on finding a solution for its disputed nuclear programme as “positive” and “good,” with the next talks slated for October 15-16.

“It was a substantial meeting, good atmosphere and energetic,” said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks between Iran and six world powers.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last year held up a cartoon of a bomb in his speech as a symbol of the Iran threat, worried about the seemingly improving diplomatic situation and urged world leaders not to trust Iran despite the new face of Rouhani.

“I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don’t, because facts are stubborn things,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “The facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rethoric.” Nonetheless, relations between Israel and the Palestinians progressed as Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to intensify peace talks, which resumed in July after being suspended in September 2010.

The goal of the talks, negotiated by Mr. Kerry, is to reach a final status agreement within nine months on all major issues including borders, security, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

“We are not seeking an interim agreement,” Mr. Kerry said. “The one lesson is that if you leave things ... hanging out there unresolved, people who don’t want things to happen can make them not happen.” In another notable bilateral meeting Sunday, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed to end cross-border attacks, a move that could improve troubled relations between the two nuclear-armed states.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, agreed to each task a senior military general “with effective means” to enforce the 10-year-old ceasefire, India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 9:23:00 PM |

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