UN General Assembly to tackle Syria, Iran's nuclear program and other issues


Flags are raised outside the United Nations before the start of the UN General Assembly in New York.


Don Emmert

The United Nations General Assembly convenes this week, with 120 world leaders and their entourages arriving in New York City for meetings that started on Monday.

The assembly will have many pressing issues on its plate, including Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions, unrest in the Middle East, ethnic conflicts in Africa, poverty and global warming, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Associated Press noted that this year's meeting is tinged with feelings of frustration and disappointment among many parties, as little progress is expected on many of the issues.

The mass protests in the Middle East, which were sparked by a crudely produced anti-Islam film, are not formally on the assembly's agenda, but are expected to cast a shadow on the proceedings, The LA Times noted.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the ministerial session, beginning on Tuesday, will reflect "the tumultuous time in which we live — a time of turmoil and transition." He added that it would be taking place "against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance," according to a UN press release.

On Monday, the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke in a closed-door briefing to the UN Security Council, saying that President Bashar al-Assad had no intention of carrying out reforms. According to a diplomat who was present, Brahimi said the country's situation was deteriorating with reports of torture, food shortages and damaged schools, the AP reported.

The UN Security Council has been deeply divided on how to respond to the situation in Syria, with Russia and China vetoing Western attempts to pressure Assad into political dialogue. CNN reported that no breakthroughs are expected on Syria.

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Also on Monday, the UN will hold a high-level meeting on the "rule of law," addressing ways to "strengthen and promote international and national legal frameworks for stronger institutions of justice, governance, security and human rights."

President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak on Tuesday, and Time said the proximity of the US elections suggests the speech will be more of a campaign speech than any kind of diplomatic engagement. The LA Times noted that Obama faces a diplomatically awkward situation where he is seeking to meet with recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, while excusing himself from meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to a packed schedule.

Netanyahu's increasingly aggressive calls on the US to issue ultimatums with regard to Iran have left relations between the Israeli government and the White House strained.

The Wall Street Journal said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to address the Assembly on Wednesday, likely prompting a walkout of Western and Israeli diplomats. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to speak on Thursday, on seeking an assembly vote to become a UN nonmember state. Netanyahu is also set to address the audience on Thursday, speaking about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao are not expected to be present.

Some of the other issues on the agenda will include Myanmar's reforms, the eurozone crisis, and militancy and famine in the Sahel region of North Africa.

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