World leaders to gather for annual UN meeting

World leaders to gather for annual UN meeting

By Gerard Aziakou / AFP

United Nations: World leaders converge here Tuesday for their annual UN summit in an atmosphere clouded by lingering US-Russian tensions over Georgia and global economic woes that threaten to further set back the fight against poverty.

More than 120 heads of state or government are to attend the week-long general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 63rd session to tackle issues that include the crisis in Georgia, Iran’s nuclear quest, food security, Darfur genocide charges against Sudan’s president, Middle East peace and Kosovo independence.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon will open the assembly debate proper Tuesday, but all eyes will be that day on George W. Bush, who will address the Assembly for the last time as US president.

Bush is expected to urge Russia to honor its commitment to fully withdraw its troops from Georgia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency and who brokered the Georgia-Russia truce deal, will speak shortly afterward.

The fallout from Russia’s rout of Georgian forces in the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August will also figure in bilateral meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Western leaders.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili himself is to take the floor Tuesday afternoon and appeal for support in his country’s conflict with Russia.

Saakashvili is at loggerheads with Russia after last month’s brief war over the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia, and Moscow’s recognition of the two Georgian rebel regions as independent.

Uranium enrichment

Another hot issue will be Iran’s dogged refusal to comply with UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment, seen by the West as a cover to obtain nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday will deliver his UN speech in which he is expected to defend his country’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

Foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States are to meet on Thursday on the sidelines of the debate to weigh prospects for a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran for its nuclear defiance.

Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Belgrade last February is also on the assembly’s agenda.

Serbia has said it will submit a draft resolution at the Assembly session demanding an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether the move “is in accordance with international law."

Belgrade last month submitted a request before the United Nations for the advisory ICJ ruling, saying the approach could serve as a model to settle other similar disputes.

One major theme for this year’s debate will be the flagging battle to achieve the poverty reduction Millennium Development Goals by a 2015 deadline against a backdrop of soaring food and energy prices.

A summit meeting on implementing the goals is scheduled for Thursday on the margins of General Assembly. Various world leaders and top officials from the private sector, foundations, and civil society are expected to attend.

On Friday, the Middle East diplomatic Quartet — the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations — will huddle to review the stalled US-sponsored peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

African Union

Diplomats said they also expect a flurry of meetings over calls by the African Union and the Arab League to defer any prosecution of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir on Darfur genocide charges.

International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court in July for an arrest warrant for Beshir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in its western province of Darfur.

The ICC judges are expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to issue the warrant.

On 19 September, France suggested the war crimes proceedings against Beshir could be suspended in exchange for a “gesture" of good will from Khartoum on Darfur.

The UN Security Council has the option of deferring the prosecution for one year, renewable, if backed by nine of its 15 members and all five permanent members, which include France.

An official at the French presidency suggested that Khartoum could make a “gesture" concerning Sudanese humanitarian affairs minister Ahmed Haroun and militia chief Ali Kosheib, two other figures targeted by ICC arrest warrants, whom it has so far refused to hand over to the court.