Iceland Takes on Israel and Iran at UNGA


Sept 29, 2012 – Saturday morning is far from top billing at the UNGA but Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphÿinsson delivered one of the more creative speeches of the 67th General Assembly in his 9.30am slot. (photo by UN Photo)

In Skarphÿinsson’s own words:

“[T]he first letters of the themes I have broached here today – Palestine, Energy, the Arctic, Climate Change and the Economy, form the word we should all hold dearest here in this hall and towards each other, whatever our differences – P-E-A-C-E, Peace.”

Nice, though if he makes headlines it will likely be for the ‘I” part of his speech when he delivered tough messages to the Israeli and Iranian leaders.

“I listened to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech on Thursday, and I have a comment to make on behalf of the Icelandic people: Don’t bomb Iran. Don’t start another war in the Middle East. At the same time I say to President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership: Don’t build a bomb. Let diplomacy work, not rabblerousing or fearmongering. Let’s work for peace together.”

When he spoke last year, he told the Assembly that the Icelandic parliament would vote to recognize Palestine as a sovereign, independent state: “I’m happy to tell you today, that we have fulfilled that promise. What’s more, not a single member of the Icelandic Parliament voted against the recognition of Palestine,” Skarphÿinsson said Saturday.

He had strong words too on the Gaza blockade saying, “I have visited Gaza and I met with fishermen who are not allowed to go fishing in the waters off Gaza – and it hurts my heart, being an old fisherman myself. I met the children of Gaza whose lives are made impossible by poverty, violence and a blockade that by others than myself has been described as an open door prison.”

And on the West Bank barrier, invoking a politician of times past, Skarphÿinsson said: “I have seen for myself how the human rights of the people of the West Bank are violated every day by a man-made barrier cutting through their roads, their lands, their lives. When I was in Qalqilya the words of a former statesman we all know rung in my head. Mr. Netanyahu – tear down this wall!”

As for the U.N. Security Council: “We must reform it, so as to make it a tool, not a hindrance, for progress in situations such as in Syria this year, or – as we saw last year – concerning the Palestinian application.”

He finished by addressing the sparsely filled GA hall: “Thank you for your beautiful silence.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Full text (as prepared) and video of Skarphÿinsson address.

(His strong support of Palestinians was evident too in January 2009 when he refused to meet with Israel’s Minister for Education Yael Tamir who was touring Europe to explain Tel Aviv’s version of its invasion of Gaza, according to a classified U.S. cable released by Wikileaks).

Ahmadinejad’s Swan Song But UNGA Debut For Others


Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured above at Monday’s General Assembly high-level meeting on the rule of law, is attending his final UNGA as Iranian president (credit: UN Photo)

Sept 24, 2012 – Much focus at this year’s UNGA will be on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who’s attending his eight and last General Assembly as Iranian president (notwithstanding a future run) but some other presidents will make their debut at this year’s gathering.

Among those are Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, Yemen’s Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Tunisia’s Moncef Marzouki, Libya’s Mohamed Magariaf, Senegal’s Macky Sall and Malawi’s Joyce Banda, who in April became Southern Africa’s first female president and only the second female head of state ever for the African continent.

While U.N. detractors complain about corrupt leaders of cash-strapped countries coming to New York for the UNGA on private jets with large delegations, including family, friends and companions, who will use scarce state coffers on fancy dinners and fine clothes while getting chauffeured around in limousines, Banda’s first few months in office are worth looking at for an alternative view.

In early June, just weeks after coming to power, Banda announced that a $13.5 million jet bought by her predecessor was up for sale and so were 60 limousines used by cabinet ministers.

That same month she said Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir, wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, was not welcome in Malawi for an African Union summit, forcing the regional bloc to move the summit to Addis Ababa. Her predecessor had allowed Bashir visit Malawi in October 2011.

She also announced in her first national address that she wants to decriminalize homosexuality. Two Malawian men were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2010 for stating they wanted to get married. (The sentence was commuted after international outcry).


Malawian President Joyce Banda (photo: Lindsay Mgbor/DFID)

Banda will address the UNGA on Wednesday afternoon (Sept 26), while Ahmadinejad will take to the podium in the morning session that same day.

– Denis Fitzgerald  

On This Day, 1959 – Khrushchev Becomes First Soviet Premier to Address U.N. General Assembly

Final Phase Digital

Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev greeted by United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld* (left) at UNHQ in New York City, Sept 18, 1959 (photo: UN Photo)

Sept 18, 2012 – On this day 53 years ago, Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet premier to address the U.N. General Assembly, where he presented a solution to the Berlin crisis, called for the admission of the People’s Republic of China, and pleaded for universal disarmament.

Khrushchev told the then 82-nation member General Assembly that tensions in Berlin could be ameliorated if the U.S. signed a peace treaty with East Germany and Allied troops were withdrawn from West Berlin, though he made no such reference to a similar withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Berlin, according to the book Khrushchev in America.

On PR China, he told delegates that Beijing’s exclusion from the U.N. directly contributed to the Cold War and its admission would reduce East – West tensions (PRC was admitted to the United Nations in 1971 and recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was withdrawn).

He concluded with a vigorous call for global disarmament.

“The new proposal of the Soviet Government is prompted by the sole desire to ensure truly lasting peace among nations,” he said.

“We say sincerely to all countries: In contrast to the ‘Let us arm!’ slogan, still current in some quarters, we put forward the slogan ‘Let us completely disarm!’ Let us rather compete in who builds more homes, schools and hospitals for the people; produces more grain, milk, meat, clothing and other consumer goods; and not in who has more hydrogen bombs and rockets. This will be welcomed by all the peoples of the world,” Khrushchev implored.

That was three years before the Cuban missile crisis.

Russia currently has an estimated stockpile of 10,000 nuclear warheads while the U.S. has about 8,000.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

*Exactly two years later, on Sept 18, 1961, Hammarskjöld would lose his life in a plane crash along with 15 others in then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia)

Yemen Co-Sponsors Syria Resolution, Skips Vote

Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari speaks before the vote. He asked member states to vote with their conscience (UN Photo)

Aug. 3 – The 193-member General Assembly on Friday adopted a resolution that condemns the Syrian government’s violent 17-month crackdown and chides the Security Council for failing to agree on tough measures against Bashar Al- Assad.

The measure was adopted by a vote of 133 voting yes, 12 against and 31 abstentions.

Put forward by Saudi Arabia, as current chair of the Arab Group at the U.N., the resolution had more than 50 co-sponsors, including Yemen – yet no one from the Yemeni delegation showed up to vote. It’s one thing not to show up for a vote but to not show up to vote on a resolution you co-sponsored is quite another. A phone call to Yemen’s mission to the U.N. went unanswered and voice mail facility was not available.

Sana’a was not alone in missing the 11am General Assembly meeting – another 16 countries were also absent including Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as well as the U.N.’s newest member state, South Sudan. Other no shows were Cambodia, Philippines and Equatorial Guinea.

Among the 31 abstaining countries were Pakistan and India as well as Syria’s neighbor Lebanon.

The 12 countries who voted no to the resolution were, predictably, Syria along with China and Russia—who’ve double vetoed three Security Council resolutions against Damascus in the past ten months—as well as Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

A full tally of the vote is here.