Concluding General Debate, World Leaders Call for Strong Global Action to Resolve Longstanding International Peace, Security Challenges in Middle East, Africa

UNITED NATIONS, New York, Sept 27 – Enduring challenges to international peace and security in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere took centre stage today — along climate change and the COVID‑19 pandemic — as major issues which demand robust global action as the General Assembly concluded its annual general debate.

Since 21 September, 194 Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers and representatives of Member States took the rostrum or delivered their statements in pre-recorded videos, taking stock of the state of the world as the Assembly launched its seventy-sixth session in a hybrid format.

Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, delivered closing remarks, saying that over the last week, the list of speakers included 100 Heads of State, 52 Heads of Government, 3 Vice-Presidents and 34 ministers — although only 18 were women. “I trust you are as encouraged as I am by the strong showing of our return to in-person democracy,” he said, after the Assembly last year held its general debate in an all-virtual format owing to the pandemic.

Much was discussed, but the fact that a clear set of issues arose time and again — including equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine; the need for success at the upcoming twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland; and peace, security and the risks of instability — spoke volumes as to what the world wants, he said.

“It is now for us, and that of the United Nations system, to address these demands and to do so in a manner that turns every challenge into an opportunity — an opportunity to strengthen multilateralism and deliver results on the ground,” he said, emphasising that there is no time for complacency.

Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister of Israel, said that the new Government recently formed in Israel is the most diverse in its history. “It’s okay to disagree, it’s okay — in fact vital — that different people think differently, it’s even okay to argue,” he stated. He warned that Iran is seeking to dominate the Middle East with a nuclear weapons programme that has reached a critical point. But there are reasons for hope, he added, noting Israel’s growing ties with Arab and Muslim countries.

Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said that his country is the subject of “a large-scale hybrid war” prompted by its decision to be a strong, sovereign and prosperous State. Human rights have become “a real weapon against undesirable and disobedient countries” in the hands of short-sighted politicians, while unilateral restrictive measures, which violate international law and inflict serious damage on international relations, have become another “favourite toy of Western States”. Citing Martin Luther King, Jr., he urged the international community to “live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

Jean-Yvest Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, said today’s crises underline the importance of collective responsibility, particularly in maintaining international peace and security. To that end, France is calling for a summit of the five permanent members of the Security Council to set out an action plan, enable the Council to fully exercise its mandate and start a dialogue on key issues of arms control and collective security. The world must also focus on human rights violations, which constitute a serious threat to international peace, he said.

Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, Minister for State of the United Arab Emirates, said regional interference in Arab affairs — especially in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq — must halt and full respect for Arab countries must be ensured. The COVID‑19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing recruitment of young people by extremist and terrorist groups, he said, adding that the Middle East must be made a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

Fayssal Mekdad, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Syria, said the COVID-19 pandemic revealed both human solidarity and a sinister push to settle political scores. On a national level, Syria’s fight against terrorism remains a challenge, as some States continue to support terrorist groups. Humanitarian action in Syria must fully respect its national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, he said. He expressed full support for Iran in the face of illegal sanctions, adding that Syria holds countries which support Israel responsible for its war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Ahmed Awad Ahmed Binmubarak, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Yemen, drew attention to the hardship his country has endured since the Houthi coup of 2014, adding that Iran, the militia’s patron, is part of the problem and not part of the solution. He called on the international community to put more pressure on the Houthis, to steer development and humanitarian funds through the central bank to help the economy, and to avert a catastrophic oil spill from the Houthi-controlled oil storage tanker Safer in the Red Sea.

Hassoumi Massoudou, Minister for State and Foreign Affairs of Niger, spotlighting the severe impact of climate change on the Sahel region, called attention to ongoing attacks by terrorist groups on schools in West and Central Africa. The international community must honour its commitments to support young peoples’ right to education, he said. He also expressed strong support for efforts for Security Council reform that would see a bigger African presence in that organ.

Osman Saleh Mohammed, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, said that with the world facing the triple challenge of COVID-19, climate change and inter-State rivalry, “all of us must climb down from our high horses and ponder on these issues in a holistic manner”. Touching upon regional border disputes and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, he said that acrimonious and internationalized forums will likely hinder efforts towards an arrangement that suits the requirements of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan Bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, alluding to Myanmar, said that the situation in a fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member State posed a risk to regional security. He welcomed ASEAN leaders’ early agreement of a five-point consensus aimed at ensuring a peaceful return to democracy in that country, a cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties and humanitarian assistance.

Also speaking today were ministers and representatives of Iceland, Algeria, Grenada, Bahrain, San Marino, Oman, Sao Tome and Principe, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Cameroon, Congo, Dominica, Morocco, Mozambique, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Canada, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Guinea and Timor-Leste.

The representatives of Serbia, Iran, Albania, Lithuania, China, United Arab Emirates, Belarus and Canada spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Photo: Foreign Minister of Eritrea Addresses General Assembly Debate / UN

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