BY M.R. JOSSE
KATHMANDU: The 73rd annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has opened in New York attracting an estimated 130 heads of state/government for a six-day marathon of speeches at plenary session and a galaxy of bilateral meetings at its margins.
While the world is never ever entirely tranquil it somehow seems that this time around it is buffeted by a particularly virulent rash of uncertainties and tensions in a general setting of global disarray, including that triggered by the North Korean nuclear issue and the Iranian crisis.
Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is leading the Nepali delegation and is to address UNGA September 27, among other duties of state. Though our official media will magnify his activities in and around 73rd UNGA, there is little doubt that Nepal’s role and image at the world body has taken a pounding since the sea changes instituted in her political configuration over the past decade and more.
Two concrete realities in that regard come readily to mind. One, of course, is Nepal’s humiliating defeat to Indonesia in 2006 at elections in the UNGA contesting one non-permanent Asian seat in the UN Security Council; the other, several years on, when Nepal’s candidate for UNGA President was wiped out by the candidate from Qatar.
In the first instance, it may be recalled that our crushing defeat – showcased by 158 votes for Indonesia against a puny 28 for Nepal – happened, coincidentally, when Oli was foreign minister and deputy prime minister!
In the other, Nepal’s candidate, a former high-ranking UN official, was overwhelmed by Qatar’s ambassador to the UN, despite the fact that compared to Nepal’s UN membership going back to 1955, Qatar is a Johnny-come-lately. Besides, even the fact that Nepal has never ever held the UNGA presidency didn’t cut much ice.
For record purposes, I should remind readers that in the bad old days of the monarchy Nepal served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council twice: during 1969-1970 and 1988-1989. A Nepali UN ambassador served as Vice-President of UNGA in the early 1980s.
Be that as it may, it is patently clear that the cynosure of attention at 73rd UNGA will be American President Donald Trump who is expected, as AP reports, to further underline that in the still-evolving Trump doctrine in foreign policy, he will not subordinate America’s interest on the world stage, whether for economic, military or political gain.
Admittedly, though such a stance is hardly likely to increase Trump’s popularity on the global stage it may nevertheless help his party at the crucial mid-term elections to be held in about six weeks’ time.
Doubtless, what will be most attention-grabbing will be when Trump, for the very first time, chairs a Security Council meeting on non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction that is expected to heavily focus on Iran and North Korea.
NORTH KOREA, IRAN
Recently, following a fruitful three-day official visit to North Korea by South Korean President Moon Jae-in – one that witnessed a renewed commitment by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to dismantle its main nuclear complex if the United States takes corresponding measures and acceptance of international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile site and launch pad – it was reported that the United States is now ready to resume talks with North Korea.
As Moon pressed hopes for a second summit between Trump and Kim, he also expressed the desire that a peace treaty be signed between North Korea and the United States formally ending the 1950-1953 Korean War. While it remains to be seen how far, or how fast, progress can be made on the prickly de-nuclearization issue between Washington and Pyongyang, it would seem encouraging that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited his North Korean counterpart to meet him when they attend UNGA in New York.
With such portentous developments on the anvil at the UN, it is unwise to engage in needless speculation; it will be much better to wait and see what happens next. That said, it appears to me that while there is some grounds to believe that there will be further movement on the Washington-Pyongyang relations front, things look decidedly hairy where Iran is concerned.
In fact, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, also bound for New York, angrily announced that he was ready to confront the United States and its Gulf allies – a day after an attack on an Iranian military parade that killed 29 people, including 12 members of the elite Republican Guard.
Though the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the shooting, Tehran has pointed the finger of accusation at an unnamed U.S.-backed Gulf State supporting them. As Rouhani put it, “One of the countries in the south of the Persian Gulf took care of their financial, weaponry and political needs.”
There will, one way or another, be enormous interest when Houhani addresses the fall-out from the U.S. decision to abandon the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, when he takes the podium at the UNGA plenary shortly after Trump.
Though not UN-related, considerable uncertainty and anxiety has been ignited regarding fears that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is on the verge of collapse and that there could be another national election soon.
As this comes on the heels of the failed UK-EU negotiations in Salzburg following the EU’s ‘humiliating’ rejection of May’s Brexit plans, a perception of turmoil and disarray throughout Europe seems palpable.
Meanwhile, in India, pre-general election politics is hotting up with the atmospherics between the BJP and the Congress not only getting increasingly dirty and personal, but with worries that the Maoist problem is once again getting out of hand.
Clearly, there should be lots to write about in the weeks ahead. However, as I will be moving soon to the United States this column is herewith put to rest. Possibly in November, it will be resurrected in another format.