The 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly debate between world leaders began on September 23, in an atmosphere that some analysts defined as “tempered,” compared to prior meetings of the world body. There would be no Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, referring to the president of the United States as a “devil”; or a Yasser Arafat, standing with an olive branch in one hand, wearing an ammunition belt slung across his shoulder; or a Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe so that he might be recognized by the GA president in an era when there was actually a debate between world leaders. These days, each representative gives a 15-minute address, no debate, no rebuttal. But, be it as it may, one UN official vowed to shake things up a bit. The new president of the 192-member General Assembly, Nicaraguan Miguel d’Escoto, told reporters earlier that he wanted this session to be known as the “Assembly of Frankness,” and he did his part as one of the first speakers of the day. He warned the dozens of world leaders assembled in the Great Hall that the world is danger of drowning in a “morass of maniacal, suicidal selfishness, “which has been causing problems as diverse as a lack of access to water. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon opened the session, calling on leaders to wise up and rise to “a challenge of global” leadership. “Nations can no longer protect their interests or advance the wellbeing of their people, without the partnership of the rest,” Ban said. Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, president of Brazil, speaking ahead of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, said the debate was taking place at a particularly serious moment, “as the world faced an economical financial crisis” that required “decisive action” by governments, especially in countries “at the heart of the crisis.” Bush said that in recent weeks the “United States had taken “bold steps” to prevent economic disruption. He said the U.S. Congress “was working to pass legislation to approve a strategy,” and he was “confident it would act in the urgent time frame.” “We must open our economies and stand firm against isolation,” Bush added.
While Bush made his last speech at the UN, demonstrators were across the street calling for his arrest. The national organizations participating issued a statement saying the Bush administration remains a dangerous threat to the world. Elaine Brower, whose son is serving said, “We must condemn the war criminal Bush as he addresses the UNGA to push for more wars of aggression and the continuation of crimes being carried out in our name.” Bush delivered a five-page speech, and the first three pages were about fighting terrorism. Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia was the first African leader to speak, and she noted that even with Africa’s unprecedented growth and relative peace, in order to sustain development, “the focus on the promotion of trade rather than aid was essential.” Looking at her nation, Johnson-Sirleaf said Liberia made a priority of challenging the barriers to women’s leadership with special programs for girls. “When you educate the girl-child, you educate the whole nation,” she said. The speech that the international press waited for all day occurred after 4 p.m., when Iranian Pres. Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mounted the podium. Reading from an eight-page text, he said, “A universal resistance against the acquisitive-ness, aggression and selfishness of the bullying powers is being formed” as nations and governments “are seeking to establish new human relations based on justice.” At his press conference that followed his speech, Ahmadinejad responding to numerous questions regarding Iran’s nuclear program, said that it was a political issue and not a legal one. “The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] has said in 12 official reports that the [nuclear] activities of Iran were indeed peaceful.” There is a demonstration against the Iranian president planned for the evening of September 25,when he addresses a gathering of international religious and political leaders at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The demonstration is sponsored by AMCHA, a coalition for Jewish Concerns.