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Obama calls for ‘new era’ in first General Assembly address

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-09-24

In his maiden address to the UN General Assembly, US President Barack Obama called for a multilateral response to tackle vexing global issues. French President Nicolas Sarkozy also implored global change to avoid repeats of the crisis.

Hours after US President Barack Obama reiterated his administration’s commitment to a multilateral approach to tackle the globe’s vexing issues in his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued an impassioned call for a new world order to ensure global problems such as the current financial crisis are not repeated.


“We are in the midst of a global economic and financial crisis that is unprecedented,” said Sarkozy. “We must now invent a new world where the excesses of yesterday are no longer possible.”


Speaking on the eve of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Sarkozy warned that the international community could not “solve the problems of the 21st century with 20th century ideas and instruments,” before stressing that “the world must change – there cannot be another way”.


Obama promises ‘a new era of engagement’


Sarkozy’s remarks followed a wide-ranging speech by Obama in which the US president called on world leaders to “embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect".


In his speech to the 192-member body, Obama stressed that while he was committed to “positive engagement” in trying to find solutions to global problems, it could not be “America’s endeavour alone”.


“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone,” said Obama.


Stressing his administration’s progress on banning torture and its attempts to shut down the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Obama blasted "an almost reflexive anti-Americanism" in some sections of the international community and maintained that it could not be used as an excuse for inaction.


His remarks – especially his statements on the Middle East peace process – were greeted by frequent rounds of applause, a reception that contrasted sharply with that of his predecessor, former US President George W. Bush, who famously dubbed the stony wall of hostility he received at the UN as “a visit to the wax museum”.


Gaddafi exceeds deadline in his maiden address


Obama’s debut speech at the UN was followed by another first: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s maiden address to the General Assembly since seizing power 40 years ago.


Gaddafi’s first-ever speech at the General Assembly was preceded by a walk-out by several missions when the Libyan leader was introduced as “the king of kings of Africa” referring to a title the quixotic leader assumed at an August meeting of African tribal chiefs.


In a rambling speech calling for the restructuring of the UN, Gaddafi called for equality among member nations and the scrapping of the five permanent UN Security Council members.


While the US, UK, France, Russia and China are permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers, Libya is a non-permanent member of the 15-member group. Former Libyan foreign minister Ali Treki is the current president of the UN General Assembly.


Referring to a copy of the preamble to the UN charter, which he waved at the chamber, Gaddafi noted that the international body failed to live up to the pledges in the preamble. He noted that “the preamble states that all nations are equal, whether big or small. But are we equal?” he asked rhetorically before concluding, “The United Nations is against its own charter.”


Dressed in a flowing copper-toned robe with a glittering pin of a map of Africa fastened to his chest, Gaddafi addressed a range of issues, exceeding his deadline by over an hour, as he called for a compensation for colonialism and suggested the UN change the venue of its headquarters.


Reporting from New York, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said the speech was “distinctly Gaddafi” noting that the Libyan leader even berated some members for seemingly not paying attention.

All eyes on walk-outs during Ahmadinejad’s address

This year, like the last, all eyes are on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address, his first since the controversial June 12 election and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protests.


In statements to the press, the Iranian mission has said that Ahmadinejad will bear a message of peace.


But the Iranian leader’s repeated denial of the Holocaust has sparked widespread outrage and is likely to fuel walk-outs this year.


On Tuesday, Israel called on all delegates in the 192-member chamber to stage a symbolic walk-out when Ahmadinejad speaks.


"The simple fact of leaving the room during his speech, or not to be present during it, is a symbolic act," Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev told Israeli Army radio. Walking out of the chamber is viewed as a strong diplomatic show of disgust at the UN.


Iran’s refusal to comply with Security Council orders to suspend its uranium enrichment programme has cast a shadow over the international body, with the US and its allies pushing for further sanctions on the oil-rich Mideast nation.


In his address to the General Assembly on Monday, Sarkozy warned that if the Iranian regime was relying on “a passive response from the international community in order to pursue their military nuclear programme, they will be making a tragic mistake."


Medvedev's first address to UN General Assembly


Wednesday’s session also marks the first time Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will have addressed the UN General Assembly since assuming office last year.


While relations between Russia and several Western nations have been tense, the Obama administration has reiterated its commitment to pressing the reset button on US-Russian ties.


The West is looking to its former Cold War foe for help in both Afghanistan and in reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions.Obama is expected to meet with Medvedev on the sidelines of the UN meeting.


On Thursday, Gaddafi will attend a special UN Security Council session on nuclear non-proliferation. Obama will chair Thursday’s meeting, marking the first time such a meeting is led by a US president.

Date created : 2009-09-23