UN ends General Assembly session on pandemic, climate, Afghanistan

United Nations, Sep 27 (EFE).- The United Nations brought its annual General Assembly session to a close on Monday with speeches by several nations, including France and Israel, after world leaders and representatives spent several days at UN headquarters in New York discussing the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, Afghanistan and the so-called “submarine crisis.”

More than 150 heads of state and government spoke during this year’s General Assembly session, some of them by video and many others in person after traveling to New York, a situation that lent a certain semblance of normality to the international diplomatic event after the curtailment of many such conferences over the last 18 months due to the pandemic.

That making the trip to New York, in itself, was a risk was demonstrated by the fact that four members of the Brazilian delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from New York, and thus it appears that the UN’s warnings to limit travel and international conferences were not exaggerated.

On this last day of the UN meeting, most of the speakers representing their countries were cabinet ministers or lower-ranking officials, with the significant exception of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who had waited until Monday to deliver his first address before the international body since taking office.

Bennet focused a good portion of his remarks on Iran, whom he portrayed as a great threat to the Middle East and the rest of the world, above all due to its atomic program on which – he said – Tehran has made significant progress in recent years.

He said that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is at a “critical” juncture, accusing other countries of ignoring repeated proof of those advances or becoming “tired” of the issue.

Saying that Israel does not have that luxury, Bennett declared that his country will not get tired and will not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon, seeming to renounce diplomacy by emphasizing that words alone do not stop atomic centrifuges.

Also awaited with interest was the speech to be delivered by France, which is involved in one of the controversies that was the focus of attention during the first days of the UN session: the crisis that erupted between Paris and Washington due to the US defense agreement signed with Australia and the United Kingdom that led to the cancellation by Canberra of a lucrative contract with Paris to buy diesel submarines.

Canberra opted to purchase nuclear-powered submarines from the US instead, sparking French ire and outrage.

In his address, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did not directly mention the controversy but he insisted that the great powers of the world have to strengthen their dialogue on military matters and collective security.

Le Drian made clear that France retain significant interests in the Indo-Pacific theater and said that Paris will work for peace and stability in that region “with its partners of good will” and with the support of the rest of the European countries.

The General Assembly this year endured two big fights to determine who should mount the UN podium to speak on behalf of Afghanistan and Myanmar after the toppling earlier this year of those two governments by the Taliban and the country’s military, respectively.

Although the two countries continue to be represented at the UN by their former ambassadors, neither they nor the new authorities in power there addressed the international body.

The situation in Afghanistan was discussed over the past week on numerous occasions and in numerous speeches, with repeated calls for the Taliban to give priority to allowing humanitarian aid to enter the country and demanding that they respect human rights, although no concrete actions were taken by the assembled nations.

Two issues were at the top of the agenda for the UN, however: the worldwide vaccination campaign against Covid-19 and reaching new agreements on the fight to limit climate change.

UN chief Antonio Guterres in recent days met with almost all of the world leaders who came to New York to discuss both issues.

His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that the UN secretary general was hopeful regarding the messages delivered to him by those leaders but nevertheless it is clear that much work still needs to be done on both matters.


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