UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Democratic uprisings across the Arab world and the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership sparked excitement and hope at last year’s meeting of world leaders.
But with war raging in Syria, the Palestinian application sidelined and deadly protests generated by an anti-Islamic video, the mood as this year’s U.N. gathering begins is one of disappointment and frustration.
More than 120 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs will meet in New York City this week under heavy security at the U.N. General Assembly.
In sideline events they will also be preoccupied by rising tension over Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of an Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, al-Qaida’s inroads in the Sahel region of west Africa — especially in Mali — and the first decline in years in international aid to help developing countries combat poverty.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon predicted that the ministerial session, which begins Tuesday, will be among the busiest ever, reflecting “the tumultuous time in which we live — a time of turmoil and transition.” It is also taking place “against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance,” he said.
Ahead of the opening ministerial session, which President Barack Obama will address, the U.N. chief has invited leaders to the first high-level meeting on the rule of law on Monday, hoping they “will send a strong signal to the world’s people that they are serious about establishing well-functioning institutions and delivering justice.”
The Syrian conflict has bitterly divided the most powerful members of the Security Council, paralyzing the only U.N. body that can impose global sanctions and authorize military action.
Russia, Syria’s key protector, and China, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to stop the violence and start political talks with opponents.
Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current Security Council president, said “change in the Arab world” will be uppermost in the minds of the leaders — as was the case at last year’s session.
Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who was sworn in on June 30 after the first democratic elections in the country’s modern history, will be addressing the 193-member assembly for the first time on Wednesday.
So too will Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took office in February and is now trying to steer the country’s transition to democracy.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will step down next year, makes his final speech to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on Thursday at a closed door session.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the recent film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad will be at the top of the agenda of a ministerial meeting.
He said the international community needs to unite behind action to implement international law that warns against any advocacy of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, aggression or violence.
There will also be sessions to promote the achievement of U.N. anti-poverty goals by 2015, sustainable energy and an end to polio.