UNITED Nations General Assembly President Samir Shihabi was clearly unimpressed by the slim turnout last week for the daily 10 a.m. start of Assembly speeches. One day he named each missing delegation. The next day he named all delegations who showed up on time, hoping the others would get the hint.
That early-morning vacuum in the General Assembly hall, however, was due to more than the usual round of late-night diplomatic receptions. Even as heads of state and foreign ministers launched into their traditional half-hour speeches, a process known as the "general debate," the news, much of it within UN walls, kept happening. Delegates were hard pressed to keep up.
Standoffs with Iraq over the use of coalition helicopters and the right of UN arms inspectors to leave a Baghdad parking lot with captured documents were resolved. A British hostage was released in Lebanon. Negotiations between Salvadoran government officials and rebels, brokered in New York for the last 10 days by UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, reached a breakthrough. And the UN Security Council passed a mandatory arms embargo against all parties to the Yugoslav conflict.
Though snaring few headlines, the General Assembly speeches, due to continue until Oct. 10, contain themes likely to play a key role in shaping the UN's new focus and tone.
Most speakers routinely congratulated new UN members, the retiring secretary general (termed "an eminent statement" by one speaker, laboring in English), and the UN for its stand against Iraqi aggression. National cheering sections in the galleries clapped loudly at appropriate moments.
The old world order is gone, and the US has emerged as the dominant world power. Though experts say any full-scale revival of anti-US rhetoric is unlikely, the US, as the lone superpower, may come in for more criticism. …