Tardy Obama plays second fiddle to Swiss at UN
It happens every year. When the U.S. president arrives at the United Nations for the General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders, the east side of midtown Manhattan goes into lockdown mode. You can’t cross the streets before he arrives and until well after the most powerful man in the world has safely arrived inside the headquarters of world diplomacy.
President Barack Obama was a little late this year and unable to keep his prestigious spot as the second speaker in the annual marathon of speeches. When Obama failed to show, the Swiss president of the General Assembly Joseph Deiss announced that the president of his homeland, Doris Leuthard, would take Obama’s place and give Switzerland’s address.
Deiss assured the delegations from the United Nations’ 192 members that this was not because the Swiss had ambitions of becoming a world power, but in order to keep things moving. Of course, Leuthard enjoyed a standing-room only audience at the assembly hall, a rare opportunity for the small but wealthy Alpine nation.
After Leuthard finished, Obama stepped up to the iconic dark green podium. Wearing a dark suit and a U.N.-blue tie, he paid homage to the 65-year world organization.
“We meet within an institution built from the rubble of war to unite the world in pursuit of peace. And we meet within a city that for centuries has welcomed people from across the globe, demonstrating that individuals of every color, faith and station can come together to pursue opportunity; build a community; and live with the blessing of human liberty.”
The Middle East figured prominently in Obama’s address, his second before the General Assembly. He touched on Iran’s nuclear program, stressing that the door was still open for diplomacy, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He urged Israel to extend its moratorium on settlements and called on the Palestinians and Israelis to press ahead with their peace negotiations.
“Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks,” Obama said. “Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed.”
The Palestinians have threatened to leave the negotiations if settlement construction resumes when the partial moratorium expires on Sept. 30, while Israel has said it will not extend the freeze, even for a limited period.
But the Israelis were not around to hear Obama’s message. Their delegation was absent from the hall. A spokeswoman for the Israeli U.N. mission said the absence was due to the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles. “It’s not a boycott,” she said.
Presumably Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not attend this year’s General Assembly, will be able to watch it on television or read the transcript later.