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UN General Assembly begins annual session, Middle East on agenda

Updated On: Sep 24, 2012

The United Nations General Assembly has started its annual session this week, with crises in the Middle East overshadowing the body's meetings. Leaders are expected to discuss the situation in Syria, as well as Iran's nuclear programme and the video that has prompted anti-US protests across the Muslim world.

US President Barack Obama will focus on the Middle East when he gives one of the opening speeches on Tuesday.

Syria

Syria's 18-month conflict is not formally on the UN General Assembly's agenda, but it is expected to be addressed by several speakers on the opening day, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, French President Francois Hollande and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The UN Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the Syria crisis and on Monday UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that the situation was "extremely bad and getting worse".

Iran

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that he would warn the UN General Assembly that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be a global threat.

Mr. Netanyahu is due to address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, one day after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured) is to speak to the world body.

Mr. Netanyahu has previously called on the international community to set what he calls clear "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program which, if overstepped, could lead to military action.

On Monday, Mr. Ahmadinejad slammed Western powers, saying their campaign against Iran's nuclear program was "sacrilege" against Islam. Speaking at a UN debate on the rule of law, he said the United States, Britain and France "violate the basic rights and freedoms of other nations."

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be "eliminated," ignoring a UN warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual General Assembly session. Israel's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, walked out of the meeting in response to Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said he did not take Israel's threat of military action against Iran's nuclear facilities seriously, and denied sending arms to Syria.

US Relations with the Middle East

Behind the tensions with Iran, there are also competing narratives over the state of US relations with the Middle East's new leaders.

Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the President of the General National Congress of Libya and the country's new interim leader, is attending the UN General Assembly session, underscoring prospects for improving America's standing in the region. On Monday, Mr. Magarief apologised directly to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday for his government's failure to halt the attack on the US consulate that killed the American ambassador and three other staff.

"What happened on 11th of September towards these U.S. citizens does not express in any way the conscience of the Libyan people, their aspirations, their hopes or their sentiments towards the American people," Mr. Magarief said.

However, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has suggested that the US still bears the burden of improving its poor standing in the region. He told the New York Times that the US had earned its bad reputation in the Middle East by backing generations of military dictatorships and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region," he said.

Report: Syria and Iran to overshadow UN General Assembly [BBC, 25 Sep 2012]

Analysis: UN meets under shadow of Mid-East turmoil [BBC, 25 Sep 2012]

Report: In New York, defiant Ahmadinejad says Israel will be 'eliminated' [Reuters, 24 Sep 2012]

Report: Iran Nuclear Tensions Key Topic at UN Assembly [Voice of America, 24 Sep 2012]

Report: Downbeat U.N. General Assembly opens amid Syria stalemate [Foreign Policy, 25 Sep 2012]