UN General Assembly focuses on Middle East and climate change

Delegates from 150 countries are to debate climate change at the UN General Assembly, but the diplomatic landscape is still dominated by events in the Middle East. Afghanistan topped the agenda followed by a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East mediators

Middle East: larger conference slated

Afghanistan: security and opium

Iranian leader to address General Assembly

The meeting on climate change is going to consist of four simultaneous plenary sessions – on emissions reduction, adapting to climate change, clean technologies and financing.

Ahead of the meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “We cannot continue with business as usual. The time has come for decisive action on a global scale”.
A UN conference on climate change will take place in Bali this coming December.

Middle East: larger conference slated

A number of high-level officials are expected to attend the meeting on the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among them. The meeting itself is being hosted by Norway and will consist of the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. Its aim is to discuss the Palestinian development.

Another peace conference sponsored by the U.S. is coming in November.

Russia's acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has welcomed U.S. plans to hold a Middle East peace conference hosted by President George Bush. Mr Lavrov was speaking after a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which includes Russia, the U.S., the EU and the United Nations.

“In order to attain the goals mentioned by Secretary Rice concerning the meeting planned to be held in Washington this autumn, to make it effective and to move to practical steps, we need to aim not only the Israeli-Palestinian element but also the Middle East element on all tracks. We shouldn’t try to isolate them. I am convinced that through this policy of involvement and not exclusion and isolation we will achieve much more than through talks about who is guilty. First we need facts and then we need co-operation involving everyone,” stated Mr Lavrov.

Speaking about other Middle East issues, Mr Lavrov touched upon arms supplies. He said the arms which Russia sells to Syria are not being resold by that country to third parties.

“Everything that we sell is fully transparent. We meet both our international obligations and our export control legislation – one of the toughest in the world. Specifying our supplies to any country, including Syria, we do not allow the supplies which would disrupt the balance of forces in the region. I assure you that as for the Middle East region and our supplies of defensive arms to Syria, this balance is in no way disrupted,” he added.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed her hope that key Arab nations, including Syria, would attend the peace conference, adding that “the purpose of this meeting in supporting the Israelis and the Palestinians has to be a commitment to actually supporting a two-state solution”.

Sergey Lavrov,   
             Russia's  Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister

For his part, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concerns about the latest developments in the region, namely “rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and recent efforts by Hamas to restrain freedom of speech and the press”.

Key issues standing in the way of a successful resolution of the six-decade Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the eventual borders between Israel and a newly independent Palestinian state, control over the disputed part of Jerusalem, and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.

Afghanistan: security and opium

Meanwhile, a high-level meeting on Afghanistan was held at UN headquarters on Sunday. The talks were chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  

The discussions centred on a five-year blueprint adopted in January 2006, aimed at helping the nation build a stable future after two decades of war. Afghanistan is now facing a lot of problems, including the rising strength of the Taliban and the growing rate of opium output.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 Mr Karzai has had a very difficult problem gaining the security control over his country. Currently there are 50,000 foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan in addition to the U.S. troops there.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

“From the beginning the UN has been actively participating and assisting the Afghan government’s and people’s efforts to reconstruct their country, and recently the UN has been increasing its presence there. This morning the desire on the part of member states has been expressed that the UN do more, increase its role in the country. This is what we have been doing and what we will continue doing,” Ban Ki-moon said.

“While we agree that the challenges are enormous and difficult, we also hope that the Afghanistan government, under the leadership of President Karzai, will continue to focus their efforts on good governance, eradicating corruption, eradicating this opium cultivation and drug trafficking, and promoting more education and sanitation and health facilities. And the international community has reaffirmed its commitment to support Afghan government efforts,” he added.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

President Karzai stated that he is even willing to sit down with the Taliban for peace talks if it helps to ease up the violence in Afghanistan. He also reiterated how grateful he is for the conclusion of Sunday’s high-level meeting.

“Afghanistan is extremely grateful to the international community for the assistance it has provided. Speaking about whether the country needs more – of course, it needs more. And as for whether we would ask for more – we are grateful for what has been given to us already; if more is given – of course, we will be very grateful,” Hamid Karzai noted.

Iranian leader to address General Assembly

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also in New York where he will address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Now he is giving a speech at Columbia University. But the Iranian leader's visit to the University has sparked demonstrations among officials, civic leaders and college students. They say Columbia should not give him a platform to speak.

Thus, Mr Ahmadinejad’s visit gives students and staff members a chance to question him on issues such as the human rights and Iran’s nuclear programme.

Many people accuse Iran of pursuing a secret nuclear weapons programme – a claim which Mr Ahmadinejad denies.

More protests are expected on Monday and Tuesday, near Columbia and the UN headquarters.