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68th United Nations General Assembly

Breaking news and updates from the 68th meeting of the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations in New York starting on September 17th, 2013.

  • UN General Assembly session begins amid talk of US-Iran meeting

    On Tuesday as the United Nations kicked off the 68th session of the General Assembly, a two-week dialogue in New York City among world leaders, a letter exchange between President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, has international media questioning whether the two will meet on the sidelines of the gathering.

    If the two convene, it will be the first direct discussion between U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution.

    Rouhani seemed to suggest Tuesday that the world should be more cautiously optimistic about the assembly's portents for Iran's opening up to the outside world.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is the "only Iranian official currently scheduled to meet with" British Foreign Secretary William Hague in New York this week, Rouhani tweeted, apparently quelling expectations of higher-level dialogues between Tehran and London.

    While it remains unclear whether Obama and Rouhani will meet, the stakes are still high. Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Iran's nuclear program is a "far larger issue for us" than Syria's chemical weapons attack in August.

    Read more
  • UN: Evidence of Syrian chemical attack 'indisputable'

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that there is "overwhelming and indisputable" evidence that chemical weapons were used in the ongoing conflict in Syria.

    After reviewing a report that U.N. inspectors handed in earlier on Monday, Ban called the use of chemical weapons a war crime but stopped short of directly blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the alleged attack, which the U.S. says left more than 1,400 people dead.

    Ban further stated that the U.N. would support a resolution to remove Syria's chemical weapons from the country and put them under international control.

    He said he approved of the framework Russia and the United States agreed to two days ago.

    Ban also supported the U.S. and French view that there should be consequences if Syria fails to account for and eventually turn over its chemical weapons, but he did not specify that military action should be used.

    Ban's statements are based on a report by U.N. scientists who visited neighborhoods outside Damascus in recent weeks. While in Syria, they interviewed more than 50 residents as well as medical personnel.

    In areas where chemical weapons were suspected of being used, scientists found that 85 percent of blood samples tested positive for sarin gas. The investigators interviewed 36 people who showed symptoms of poisoning; almost all of them tested positive for exposure to sarin.

    The investigators concluded, through environmental and biological tests as well as interviews with first responders and medical workers, that surface-to-surface rockets carrying sarin had hit the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

    Read more.
  • United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference ahead of the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 17, 2013. Over 100 heads of state are expected to attend the general debate of the General Assembly which begins in New York on September 24, 2013. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

  • US and allies seek UN resolution enforcing Syria deal

    The United States, Britain and France renewed a push Monday for a U.N. resolution aimed at enforcing a pledge by Syria to destroy or hand over its chemical weapons arsenal.
    During talks in Paris on Monday, leaders from the U.S. and France insisted that a military response to the Aug. 21 poison-gas attack that killed hundreds remains on the table, and the countries are pressing for a U.N. resolution reflecting that.

    "Each of us here today are here to emphasize the same thing -- that what we achieved in this agreement has to be translated into a U.N. resolution. It has to be strong, it has to forceful, it has to be real, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely -- all of those things are critical -- and it has to be enforced," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kerry added, "If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games."

    The U.S. and Russia have brokered an agreement between Syria and the international community that would avert the immediate threat of a military attack by the U.S. government.

    The agreement calls for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program within one week, with all components of the program out of the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

    The push for the resolution comes the same day that inspectors from the U.N. handed a report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ahead of Ban's Monday afternoon news conference, U.N. inspectors said there is "convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used in the August attack. The head of the U.N. team investigating Syria is also probing 14 alleged chemical attacks since September 2011.

    Read more.
  • Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at General Assembly session on the Sellstrom Report, September 17, 2013

    Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this important session on the first day of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, and thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your briefing. I would like to thank Dr. Sellstrom and his team for their important work, carried out with bravery and great care. What is happening in Syria demands the world’s attention and it demands urgent action.

    More than 100,000 people have been killed, a generation of Syrians scarred, and a country and region forever changed.

    As we have just heard, Dr. Sellstrom’s report confirms unmistakably that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21. We’ve seen the videos. We’ve heard from humanitarian workers. And yesterday we heard from the UN’s own experts. The stories are haunting – hospitals packed with people suffocating from poison gas. The images and testimonies are a call to all of us to action. As Assad waged war on his own people with the full force of his military– including chemical weapons on multiple previous occasions – the United Nations was not able to come together on a meaningful response.

    The United States offered in-depth briefings by our leading intelligence officials, who shared with many of you the evidence that they had collected, and they responded to your questions. The evidence of the events of August 21 is clear: in the days before the attack, Assad’s chemical weapons experts prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to regime troops. They then fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 12 neighborhoods that the regime had been trying to clear of opposition forces. It defies logic to think that the opposition infiltrated this regime-controlled territory to fire rockets on its own opposition-controlled areas—and only into opposition-controlled areas—on a massive scale.

    After the chemical weapons attack, senior regime military officers reviewed the results, and the regime increased its shelling of these same neighborhoods in the days that followed. The United States has studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site, and our samples tested positive for sarin gas, just as Dr. Sellstrom’s samples did. And let’s remember here today that every reference to a “biomedical sample” refers to a person, a flesh and blood human being who suffered a monstrous attack. The 1,400 people killed in the attack are not here to testify today about what happened. The more than 400 children will never wake up to tell us their dreams for their futures.

    For a crime of this magnitude, it is not enough to say “chemical weapons were used,” anymore than it would have been enough to say that “machetes were used” in Rwanda in 1994. We must condemn the user, and here we must acknowledge what the technical details of the UN report make clear: only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack, the largest attack in 25 years.

    The 12-centimeter rockets that the UN says were used in the attack and that tested positive for sarin are the same rockets used by the regime in previous attacks. We have reviewed thousands of open source videos related to the current conflict in Syria and have never once observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket. We also learned yesterday in the Security Council that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. And the rockets found on the site were professionally made and, according to Dr. Sellstrom, they bore none of the characteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons. They had sophisticated barometric fuses to disperse the nerve agent in the air and not on impact. This was a professionally executed massacre by the regime, which is known to possess one of the world’s largest undeclared stockpiles of sarin. To think otherwise is to willfully blind oneself to the facts that have been presented.

    Assad’s use of chemical weapons crossed the world’s redline and the international community has a responsibility not to stand by while Assad uses weapons that the world long ago agreed should never be used. And we all must recognize that the price of failing to hold Assad accountable is just too steep. The risks could extend well beyond Syria to the region and beyond. The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is a colossal threat to the security of people everywhere.

    The progress made last Saturday in discussions between the United States and Russia marks an important step toward moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed. This framework seeks the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons, which could end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and to the world. In order for the framework to be implemented in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, the Security Council must be prepared to back up the agreement reached and to enforce it through a robust, binding resolution. There must be consequences for non-compliance and for any obstruction or any delay. We must be willing to hold the Assad regime to account to live up to its public commitments, and that requires meaningful action in New York in order to ensure that the officials we send to carry out the destruction and removal of Syria’s chemical weapons have the mandate and the tools that they need to do so, and do not themselves become unwitting bystanders to continued obstruction or further chemical weapons use by Assad’s forces.

    Mr. Secretary-General, the UN has a crucial role to play here, supporting and working alongside the OPCW and member states. We know that the OPCW will be asked to take special steps to enable the quick destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program, including a stringent verification process. As I said earlier today in the Security Council, the degree of difficulty here, on a scale of 1 to 10, is an 11. We need to maximize the chances for success by giving the mission our strong backing. We must reinforce this effort through the Security Council to ensure verification and effective implementation. We hope that states will also step forward -- as my government has committed to do -- to support the OPCW and the UN in their efforts.

    Finally, whether by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons, the violence against civilians in Syria has gone on too long and it must stop. An agreement on the destruction and removal of chemical weapons is not a substitute for a political solution. The 100,000 or more dead Syrians makes it gravely clear that a political transition is urgently needed to end the violence. We, in the United States, remain committed to convening a Geneva conference as soon as possible and practicable.

    Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General and thank you. Mr. President.

  • Speaking at the UN on September 16, US Ambassador Samantha Power said that munitions cited in the UN report on the chemical weapons attack in Syria on August 21, are associated with previous regime attacks. Power also said the US are presenting a draft decision to the OPCW, which includes special measures for verification and an accelerated timeline for destruction of the weapons.

    Source: State Department via Storyful

  • Happening now in Canada, NYC, Haiti & online: "Education for Peace" #PeaceDay student videoconference. Watch live: j.mp/KQ78Zz
  • 1 in 5 people live w/out power - @NBCRevolution & @UN join up to draw attention to this problem: wapo.st/17ErX3K #RevolutionUN
  • Hundreds of youth gathered at the UN hq to celebrate the International Day of Peace. Will be addressing them shortly http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BUcrAYSCQAE5vGS.jpg

  • Transcript: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks at Peace Bell Ceremony for the International Day of Peace:

    Good morning and thank you all for joining us for this Peace Bell Ceremony.

    The International Day of Peace is a time for reflection – a day when we reiterate our belief in non-violence and call for a global ceasefire. 

    We ask people everywhere to observe a minute of silence at noon local time.

    We honour those killed in conflict and the survivors who live with daily trauma and pain.

    And we call for combatants to lay down their arms and end hostilities.

    Perhaps nowhere in the world is this more desperately needed than in Syria.

    The death and suffering has gone on too long.

    I repeat my call to all parties and their supporters to work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through negotiation.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the theme of this year’s observance is “Education for Peace”.

    When Malala Yousafzai came to the United Nations in July, she said: “One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”

    These are our most powerful weapons.

    That is why I launched the Global Education First Initiative last year.

    Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity.

    Governments and development partners are working hard to meet this goal. 

    But we must do more – much more. 

    We need to accelerate momentum in countries with the greatest needs, such as those affected by conflict.

    I have travelled to many war zones.  I have visited families in refugee camps.  The plea is often the same: “Education first”.

    The UN family-- including UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Food Programme – is working in conflict and post-conflict environments.

    We are building schools, developing curricula, training teachers and providing nourishing breakfasts and school lunches.

    These initiatives can transform the lives of children and help address the root causes of conflict.

    On this International Day of Peace, let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect.

    When we put education first, we can reduce poverty and end hunger, end wasted potential, and build stronger and better societies for all.

    After a moment of silence I will ring the Peace Bell.

    Let us pledge to amplify the message it carries, so it can echo in the sound of school bells around the world.

    Let us commit to peace everywhere.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.

    May I invite all of you to observe a minute of silence.

  • Commentary: Will Rouhani and Obama get up and dance?

    by Barbara Slavin

    Like adolescent boys and girls sitting on opposite sides of the gymnasium at a junior high school dance, U.S. and Iranian officials have struggled for years to muster the courage merely to get up and cross the floor.

    What would happen if he/she declines to dance? What would happen if he/she says yes but winds up stepping on toes? What will their friends and enemies say?

    Last Sunday, in an interview with ABC, President Barack Obama acknowledged that he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have exchanged letters, feeding speculation that the two may meet on the sidelines of next week’s annual high-powered opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

    In geopolitics, as in dancing, choreography matters. It’s possible that such a “meeting” would amount to no more than a handshake at the U.N. secretary general’s annual luncheon for world leaders. Or there could be an exchange of pleasantries during a stage-managed encounter in a corridor. Even then, it would mark an unprecedented contact between presidents of two countries that have been estranged for 34 years.

    Even if there is no presidential encounter, the annual diplomatic gabfest known as UNGA will provide ample opportunity for Iran to trade ideas with the United States and its negotiating partners over how to de-escalate the long-standing crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program. Early signaling by the Iranian side suggests a willingness to compromise, but the diplomacy now unfolding over Syria adds an extra layer of complexity to what had already been a difficult process.

    Read more.
  • #UNSG speaks to youth on education and being global citizens, passion and compassion is key to living in a harmonious world. #UNGA
  • #UNSG speaks to youth on education and being global citizens, says passion and compassion is key to living in a harmonious world. #UNGA
  • #UNSG , at ringing of Peace Bell, repeats call to Syrian parties to work for peace through negotiation bit.ly/19eouHh
  • This morning Security Council in closed consultations on Sudan/South Sudan. Later Liberia & SierraLeone on the agenda #UNSC #OzPrez
  • Germany celebrates 40 years in the United Nations..bit.ly/169qV2O #UNGA

  • WATCH: Live from Rome as Pope asks Catholics to join in prayer for UN's International Day of Peace
  • The @UN inspectors' report, the work of @OPCW , @WHO & #UNSG shows the relevance of the multilateral toolbox, given political will to use it.
  • Human Rights Watch has called  upon members of the United Nations Security Council and other UN member countries to publicly oppose attendance of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir  at the UN General Assembly. Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for serious crimes committed in Darfur.

    US government officials have said that al-Bashir has applied for a visa to attend the UN General Assembly, which is scheduled to hold its general debate from September 24 to October 2, 2013. He is subject to two arrest warrants by the ICC for crimes in Darfur – one for genocide and another for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC opened an investigation after the Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the court in Resolution 1593 in March 2005.

    “If al-Bashir turns up at the UN General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice program director at Human Rights Watch. “The last thing the UN needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive.

    A visit by al-Bashir would be the first to the UN or the United States by someone subject to an ICC arrest warrant. Many countries, including ICC members and non-members, have avoided anticipated visits by al-Bashir by encouraging him to send other Sudanese government representatives, rescheduling or relocating meetings, or cancelling his visits. They include South Africa, Malaysia, Zambia, Turkey, Central African Republic, Kenya, and Malawi.

    The US has condemned al-Bashir’s potential General Assembly visit. On September 16, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, called it “deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate.

    Read more.
  • United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks at the Peace Bell Ceremony on the occasion of the International Day of Peace 2013 (21 September).

  • Follow @ajam live blog for the 68th United Nations General Assembly bit.ly/1eQqca6
  • UNSG Spokesperson: Ban Ki-Moon called International Day of Peace as "time for reflection and call for a global ceasefire."
  • UNSG Spokesperson: Ban Ki-Moon highlights International Day of Peace with Education.
  • UNSG Spokesperson on question of evidence in Syria: "The report that was made public on Monday was specifically into the incident on August of this year. The team will return to Syria to be able to continue its work and compete work on the reports."
  • Reuters reports: UN says chemical weapons experts' report on Aug. 21 Sarin attack in Syria is 'indisputable' and 'thoroughly objective'
  • UNSG Spokesperson on UN Syria report: "The mission confirmed objectively, unequivocally the types and trajectories of the rockets that led to the death of so many civilians. The terrible facts speak for themselves."
  • UNSG Spokesperson on Commission of Inquiry report of NK: reports showed "widespread and serious violations" and Secretary General hopes the DPRK will cooperate fully with Commission of Inquiry and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.
  • UNSG Spokesperson on questions of protocol for war crimes: "The Secretary General considers chemical weapons to be a war crime."
  • JFK @UN in 1963 on peace, "seek peaceful solutions.. it's never too early to try and never too late to talk." bit.ly/18yRyOH
  • The 41 members of OPCW Executive Council (incl Russia, US, UK, France, China) usually adopt decisions by consensus. opcw.org/about-opcw/exe…

  • WATCH: Google Hangout: The Case for Multilaterlism headed by U.S. Department of State

    Dean Pittman - Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs

    John Prendergast- Co-Founder, Enough Project, Center for American Progress

    Mark Leon Goldberg- Reporter, UN Dispatch

    Tiffany Taylor- U.S. Youth Observer

  • WATCH: Security Council Media Stakeout (UNIPSIL)
  • by AJAM

    While 58% of Americans have a positive opinion of the UN, support varies considerably by political party. A strong majority of Democrats (72%) in the U.S. have a favorable view of the international body, while a smaller 60%-majority of independents agree. Meanwhile, support among Republicans trails at 41% and has dropped ten percentage points since 2011.

  • Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, briefs the press on September 18, 2013.
  • Are UN leaders thinking enough about gender equality? Gender equality is said to be a major focus of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendations for UN's post-2015 development agenda. But UN Dispatch's Tabby Biddle has her doubts

    Pretty much across the board, in every country and in every industry, women continue to be undervalued, underrepresented and underpaid. Today, two-thirds of those who live in abject poverty are women and girls. Two reasons that likely contribute to this predicament are that two-thirds of the global illiterate population is women due to lack of access to education, and only between 10 and 20 percent of women in developing countries have land rights. Add to this that women make up less than 19 percent of parliamentarians and 10 percent of heads of state. In other words, women’s voices are absent in addressing the issues that most affect their lives and the lives of their families.

    While those who work in global development seem to clearly acknowledge the benefit of empowering women and girls, it seems to be more in theory than in practice.

    One blatant example is the lack of financial support for UN Women by UN member states. “Since the creation of UN Women, words have not matched funding action,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in her first press conference last week as Executive Director of UN Women. She called the limited funding, “the elephant in the room.

    So what’s really going on here?

    While I agree that the limited financial support for UN Women is the elephant in the room, I think there is an even bigger elephant blocking that one: Religion.

    Read more at UN Dispatch
  • In 2000, world leaders identified eight anti-poverty goals that included, "poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a global partnership for development."

    The 2015 deadline for achieving those Millennium Development Goals looms large over this year's meeting of the UN General Assembly

    “The upcoming year will be pivotal for this Assembly as we seek to identify the parameters of the post-2015 development agenda,” 68th General Assembly President John W. Ashe said in his opening address to the 193-Member State body, where scores of Heads of State will take to the podium next week in the annual general debate.

    “The magnitude of the task before us will require decisive action and the highest levels of collaboration and we must prove ourselves and our efforts to be equal to the enormity of the task.

    The year 2015 is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight anti-poverty targets agreed by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, setting specific goals on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a global partnership for development.

    To this end Mr. Ashe, a national of Antigua and Barbuda, has declared “The Post 2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” the theme for the 68th General Assembly, a theme underscored by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    “We will intensify our efforts to define a post-2015 development agenda, including with a single set of goals for sustainable development that we hope will address the complex challenges of this new era and capture the imagination of the people of the world, as the MDGs did,” Mr. Ban told the 193-member body, adding that attention would also be focussed on speeding achievement of the MDG in the 1,000 days to the deadline.

  • On September 21 Peace One Day celebrates the International Day of Peace at the Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands. Artists from around the world will be part of this event.
  • Special Rapporteur of the UNSG: calling for a "gradual return to normalcy in Afghanistan."
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says at least 131 heads of state or government attend the United Nations General Assembly-- one of highest turnouts in UN history.

    "I will meet with as many world leaders as I can," said Ban on September 17. "I am determined to pack a lot into these encounters. We have much to discuss."
  • Yan Kubish, UN special Envoy for Afghanistan: "President Karzai has called for full Afghan responsibility for security and move toward a self-reliant economy, toward stability."
  • Security Council meeting on #afg . Outside the chamber, I spied US ambo Power and #russia ambo Churkin chatting. #Syria ?
  • Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations expresses strong support for bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan will continue to assist Afghanistan and plan to extend refugee support until Dec. 31, 2015.

    “We convey sincere hope to further deepen and broaden the relationship with Afghanistan."
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