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John Metzler Archive
Friday, September 19, 2008

'Kumbaya’ at the UN, but Georgia on their minds

UNITED NATIONS — Presidents, Prime Ministers and Princes have converged on New York for the opening of the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. Yet as 192 member states convene in the cavernous General Assembly hall, there are growing storm clouds which confront world leaders. The session is particularly shadowed by Russian aggression in Georgia, Iran’s continuing nuclear proliferation, the specter of international terror, and of course the global economic turbulence.

The session’s opening General debate shall hear speeches by U.S. President George W. Bush, likely his last address before the UN, Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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The new President of this year’s Assembly (not to be confused with Korean Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) is Father Miguel D’Escoto, Nicaragua’s former Foreign Minister. In his opening address he called for the UN’s democratization and a dedication to the “dispossessed of the world.” He added, that the problems must be solved in a spirit of global brotherhood and sisterhood. He later told correspondents “it sounds like something from songs or poetry but it is the only way out of a quagmire of insane selfishness.” Everyone had to take steps to bring the Earth back from the brink.

Seemingly promoting the happy spirit of peace, harmony and all-round political Kumbaya for the General Assembly session, Father Miguel a Maryknoll priest known as a proponent of the Catholic “liberation theology,” offered a litany of rambling philosophical ideas for a reformed and more effective UN to help both the world’s poor, confront climate change, and to democratize the powerful fifteen member Security Council. Fine, but what about addressing human rights issues in Burma, Cuba, or Zimbabwe? Not a word but perhaps we should play the soundtrack of Kumbaya!

But it was sadly telling that in a press conference, Father Miguel, an avuncular but dedicated Sandinista returned to form. When questioned as to whether he considered the recent Russian military invasion of Georgia as aggression, D’Escoto professed not to hear or understand the question, but then said “there were irregularities being committed all over the place such as the war in Iraq.” When pressed on the point he slyly stated that Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia was certainly aggression! So blame the victim!

It is equally curious that Nicaragua is one of the few countries besides Russia to offer diplomatic recognition to the breakaway regions of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Given D’Escoto’s political pedigree, I can’t help but recall the Jimmy Carter years when the Marxist Sandinistas’ seized power in Nicaragua, and the very same Father D’Escoto was their outspoken Foreign Minister.

Many of the UN delegates have Georgia on their mind; this summer’s short but brutal conflict in the Caucuses has telling consequences for the world community, especially Europe and needless to say Georgian sovereignty itself. While the Russian bear clawed away separatist regions from the Georgian Republic, and then recognized the “independence” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the wider issue remains how far Putin’s petro-dollar intoxicated Kremlin will go to put pressures on Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet empire to come back to Mother Russia?

Naturally the Islamic Republic of Iran holds center stage as it has sadly since the Ayatollahs seized power in 1979 amidst the bumbling indecisiveness of the Carter Administration. Now on the verge of a nuclear Iran, whose leaders have threatened to blast Israel off the map, just for starters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the Assembly in a spirit of “Who Me?”

As for international terror, the signs are as obvious as the recent bombings in India, the attacks on the United States embassy in Yemen, and the lawlessness along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.

Global economic problems, especially the world downturn caused by high oil and commodity prices and their terrible effects on poor countries will dominate discussions. Rising food and petroleum prices have had a particularly damaging effect in the developing world, and have equally caused slowdowns in the developed countries. The upcoming Assembly session has an odd 1970’s Jimmy Carteresque feel to it; chill cold war winds, gloom and doom, and diplomatic déjà vu of times happily forgotten.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World
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