Heads of state from around the world gathered in New York City on Monday and Tuesday for the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Leaders on one of the biggest global diplomatic stages called on the international community to broker peace in the Middle East, use diplomacy over force and take action against rampant inequality and poverty.
Meanwhile, a new PEW Research Center poll revealed that the Middle East has the “dimmest view” of the of the United Nations, with an average of 56 percent of people in seven Middle Eastern and North African countries viewing the UN unfavorably.
Here are some takeaways from some of the many statements made to the Assembly:
President Barack Obama outlines “US perspective” on challenges in Middle East
In his speech to the assembly Tuesday morning, President Obama first addressed the question of the Syrian crisis, stating only a “strong Security Council Resolution” could verify that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad upholds his commitment to turn all chemical weapons over to international control.
“There must be consequences,” Obama said, if they fail to do so.
The president also announced an additional $340 million in US humanitarian assistance to Syrians, and advised other countries to provide additional aid as well.
Speaking on Iran’s nuclear program, Obama “emphasized the US commitment to resolving the issue,” noting that a resolution could “serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship—one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
The president also reiterated that should a diplomatic solution not be found, all options, including military force, remain on the table.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “preaches tolerance” in his first UN speech
The Iranian president on Tuesday asked for tolerance and understanding, condemned Western sanctions as “violent” and said Iran’s future does not include nuclear weapons.
“This will always be the position of Iran,” President Rouhani said of the country not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Hopefully, the president said, “we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” although he believes that the “shortsighted interests of warmongering pressure groups” in the US has sent Iran inconsistent messages on the nuclear dispute and other issues between the two nations.
While previous appearances by Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provoked walkouts by diplomats during his General Assembly speeches, this year saw no such walkout.
“Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region,” Rouhani said.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff calls US spying a “breach of international law”
The Brazilian president reportedly “launched a blistering attack on US espionage” in her address to the general assembly, saying that recently revealed NSA spying violates international law by its “indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens” and targeting her country's “strategic industries.”
Rousseff last week postponed, without setting a future date, a planned state visit to Washington in protest the spying, details of which were leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
"Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the centre of espionage activity.
Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the UN and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted," Rousseff said.
"Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country. The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained. Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups.”
Rousseff left New York City on Wednesday without having met with President Obama.
Sri Lankan president asks world leaders to study failure to reduce poverty
“According to World Bank projections, by 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia will be home to approximately 40 per cent of the developing world's population living in extreme poverty,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the General Assembly’s General Debate. “[Yet these projections] only diminish the sense of our optimism. It is fitting for the UN system to examine the causes for the failure in improving the lot of the deprived.”
The president cited his efforts in his own country to ensure that “economic growth benefits all segments of society” and called on the United Nations to “study the international community’s failure to improve the lot of the impoverished worldwide.”
Commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Rajapaksa said, has brought a sense of hope to successfully reach the goals by their target date in 2015.
The MDGs seek to “slash extreme hunger and poverty,” improve access to health care and education, realize gender equality and environmental stability, and reduce the rates of maternal and child mortality, as well as those of HIV/AIDS.
“Reflecting on the work of the UN, matters of a political nature have overridden the most basic issues, which affect the underprivileged and marginalized, who dominate world society,” Mr. Rajapaksa said, noting that the results of the MDGs have still been uneven “among and within countries.”
World leaders who met at the headquarters yesterday “agreed to take bolder action against extreme poverty, hunger and disease,” and called for a 2015 summit to adopt the next set of goals focused on achieving sustainable development.