A viewer's guide to the U.N. General Assembly
September 23rd, 2012
06:04 PM ET

A viewer's guide to the U.N. General Assembly

By Joe Vaccarello

World leaders flock to the United Nations this week for the 67th annual session of the General Assembly.

The general debate is expected to draw participation from 116 heads of state and government leaders. Foreign ministers and other government representatives will fill out the rest of the attendance roster of the 193-member world body.

While the focus is usually on the leaders' speeches in the General Assembly hall, there will be a lot of activity happening inside and outside the U.N. complex with high-level meetings and bi-lateral country to country talks.

Here's a guide to what to look for:


A regular session of the Security Council will get a briefing by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League joint special representative for Syria, who just returned from Damascus and the region. No major announcement is expected in regards to resolving the crisis.

More: U.N. to spotlight Syrian civil war

A day before the big speeches start, the U.N. will convene a high-level meeting on the "rule of law." Ministers and government representatives will discuss how they can strengthen and promote international and national legal frameworks for stronger institutions of justice, governance, security and human rights.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will hold his own mini-General Assembly, the annual Clinton Global Initiative, which started on Sunday but gets into full swing on Monday and Tuesday. This year it will focus on "Designing for Impact," a look at how to take ideas from the private realm to improve lives, commerce and government. Among the speakers: President Barack Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsy and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.


President Obama is scheduled as one of the first speakers in the morning. This will be his fourth speech from the General Assembly podium. While he is speaking in front of an international crowd, his speech will also target a domestic audience, which will decide in November whether he gets another chance at the rostrum next year.

The head-of-state luncheon will break up the morning and afternoon speech sessions. Traditionally, the U.S. president begins it with a toast.

French President Francois Hollande takes the lectern in the afternoon. Great concern to France is the region of North Africa known as the Sahel, which is experiencing drought , famine and Islamic militancy.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to speak in the afternoon. He arrived last year but didn't give his speech because he had to return quickly when former president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated.

The economy and Eurozone crisis will be on everyone's mind when Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy takes the podium as one of the last speakers of the night.


Always-controversial Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes his appearance in the morning. In recent years several delegations have walked out during his speeches when he started assailing the United States and criticizing countries who used the Holocaust as an "excuse to pay ransom to Zionists."

Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy will also be speaking in the morning. Many in the Great Hall will look forward to hearing from this new player on the world stage, who has upgraded Iranian-Egyptian relations with a recent visit to Tehran, while extremist violence in the Sinai and protests in Cairo have the United States and Egypt's neighbour, Israel, on edge.

The Security Council will hold a high-level meeting of ministers highlighting the vital role of the Arab League as a regional entity, particularly during the last two years of the Arab Spring.


The big focus of the day will be when President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority speaks and then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled soon after him. The Palestinians are looking to upgrade their "observer" status at the United Nations to "non-member observer state," allowing them more privileges at the world body as well as recognition as a state instead of just an "entity." Last year, Abbas called for full U.N. member-state status of the Palestinians but those efforts were later blocked in the Security Council, primarily by the United States.

Meanwhile Netanyahu's office said the Israeli president was denied a visit with President Obama during his trip to the United States, due to strained relationships on how to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions. He'll be meeting with other officials from the Obama administration.

Iran will be discussed by the political directors of the E3+3 (France, Great Britain, Germany plus China, Russia and the Untied States) at a side meeting, and a minister-level meeting could follow.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, who has been opening up and reforming his once-isolated country, will speak earlier in the morning. Diplomats and journalists are wondering if Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi will be in the audience as a sign of support for the president's efforts. She met with Obama at the White House last week.


Convening outside the U.N. grounds, a "Friends of Syria Core Group" meeting will bring together Western and Arab backers of the Syrian rebellion.

MONDAY (October 1)

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem speaks in the morning on the last day of the international gathering.

Filed under: Egypt • Iran • Israel • Obama • Palestine • Syria • UN General Assembly
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