NEW YORK – Statesmen descend once again on UN headquarters in New York this
week, but the 68th General Assembly might prove different than sessions in the
After several years of speechifying, sanctioning and
pre-negotiating, the United States faces the prospect of real diplomatic
breakthroughs on three of the Middle East’s most daunting crises.
stunning declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles and its vow to destroy
them, in a deal brokered by Russia to void off US military strikes against the
Syrian regime, has reminded Washington of the power of the stick: Even
accidentally, the mere threat of military force can disrupt diplomatic stasis,
delivering a possible negotiated end to a decades-old problem.
can sanctions, as the Iranian regime signals serious interest in an interim
agreement on its nuclear program that will ease economic constraints imposed by
the West on their country’s key financial sectors.
And as the crisis over
Syria abated, the State Department reminded journalists that Secretary of State
John Kerry still considers a final-status agreement between Israel and the
Palestinians one of his top priorities. So does US President Barack Obama, who
will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to
discuss ongoing direct peace talks.
The coming week is key for all three
crises here in New York, making this year’s General Assembly uniquely important.
Diplomacy is having its moment in the spotlight, properly highlighted at the UN,
a body that rarely proves its mission true that peace can be achieved through
Unlike in the past, speeches presented by the presidents of the
United States, Iran and the Palestinian Authority will not be aimed primarily at
They will now be aimed at each other, in a deliberate
effort to send messages to adversarial governments of their willingness to
negotiate and settle.
The Security Council will face a true test as both
Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly challenge its effectiveness
after the gassing of over 1,400 civilians in a Damascus suburb in August
went unanswered, and effectively ignored, without even a resolution condemning
the use of chemical weapons passing through the paralyzed body.
true reform will likely fall on deaf Russian ears, but a resolution on Syria
might finally make its way through the council holding Syrian President Bashar
Assad responsible for the destruction of his chemical arms.
president, Hassan Rouhani, will have his first chance to show the US, Israel and
the rest of the international community that Iran intends to recognize the
Holocaust, the right of Jews to exist in the region without threat of mass
attack, and international laws governing the use and limitations of nuclear
power. That opportunity cannot go unmissed, with stakes truly high for him both
at home and abroad: Conservatives in Iranian politics have been sidelined to
give the relative moderate president a chance, and US and Israeli officials have
clarified that, after the Syrian crisis, their patience with Iran’s nuclear
program is wearing thin as time runs out on alternative options to
Most difficult will be the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, which,
compared to the crises posed by Iran and Syria, feels less pressing and has
fewer parties directly invested in a swift solution. Nevertheless, this week
will be a rare opportunity for the leaders of both peoples to choose words of
conciliation over words of aggression; overtures with heft, instead of empty
gestures. Whether the Palestinians choose to use this General Assembly to
further entrench the conflict with its natural UN allies, or allow the peace
process to breathe, will be a major test of its leadership and the faith it has
in the talks that are still under way.
Speechifying is guaranteed and
outcomes are certainly not. But at this UN gathering, given the stakes and the
conditions created by true pressures, the words will finally matter.