October 2015

The Greatest Show on Earth: World Watches as UN General Assembly Opens

By Angelo Piro
Staff Writer

On September 15, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly with its usual pomp and fanfare.

The two-week event will include a summit on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), during which governments would adopt the development agenda for the next 15 years, followed by the standard meeting of the UN General Assembly, with open debates focusing on climate change, UN peacekeeping forces, and combating ISIS and other extremist groups.

The whirlwind of international diplomacy was led by a number of world political leaders, most notably U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and French President Francois Hollande. Each spoke within two hours of each other, eager to stake out their country’s political space on international development and climate change.

Arguably the most star-studded day of the opening was Friday, September 25, when Pope Francis delivered the closing address at the Sustainable Development Summit. His Holiness addressed the issues of climate change and global inequality, weaving messages on poverty with themes of his much lauded Laudato Si encyclical.

The Pope also touched on the issue of war and peace, which is central to the new development goals. He highlighted ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and South Sudan, reminding the assembled heads of state about their true bond.

With the end of the Pope’s speech, the world then saw the adoption of the final version of the sustainable development goals, marking the end of the Sustainable Development Summit. With the goals of the new development agenda guiding the way, the real work of the regular GA session began.

The regular session will feature a broad stretch of issues, focusing especially on cross-cutting discussions of climate change in the lead up to the Paris Conference later this year. The session will also focus on strategies to combat extremist groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State, a top priority of the one-week meeting of world leaders.

Some key speakers to watch will be Iran’s Rouhani, fresh off a huge diplomatic win after the Iran nuclear deal; Russia’s Putin, who is making his first appearance in the GA Hall in a decade amid growing concerns about Russia’s presence in Ukraine and Syria; and Cuban President Raul Castro, who will be addressing the UN for the first time.

Much of the work within the UNGA will be also done on the sidelines.  President Rouhani of Iran will be hosting a side meeting of the six nations party to the Iran agreement to discuss implementation.  President Obama will have a one-on-one meeting with President Putin, the first parley between the two since tensions began in Ukraine, according to White House officials.

Additionally, President Obama will host a side summit that will see almost 50 countries make pledges of men and equipment to the UN Peacekeeping Forces, a major win for the President who is seeking to make the use of UN peacekeeping troops a major US foreign policy point.

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