You might suppose that the United Nations General Assembly in New York is done with its opening exertions for 2013, now that the new UN celebrity, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, has flown home to help his boss, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, tend to such projects as — how has Rouhani described it? — “our peaceful nuclear energy program” and “my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.” (Quoting here from the Sept. 19 Washing Post op-ed with which Rouhani’s public relations team prepared the ground for his arrival on the UN main stage.)
For sure, it was an action-packed week at UN headquarters. Even beyond the round-the-clock news of Rouhani — speaking, snubbing, giving interviews, taking phone calls — there were such episodes as the UN General Assembly inviting the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas to take a seat, for the first time, in the onstage beige chair reserved for heads of state (part of the GA’s continuing effort to help the PA do an end-run around the Palestinian promises in the Oslo Accords). There was the usual appearance by Zimbabwe’s longtime despot, Robert Mugabe, who at age 89 did a remarkably spry job of praising the UN and denouncing the U.S., Britain and their allies (“Shame, shame, shame“). There was the not entirely surprising non-appearance of Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir, who had planned to attend (this plan was surprising, given that Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his role in Sudan’s genocide). Instead, Bashir sent Sudan’s minister of foreign affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti, who spent the first part of his speech to the GA denouncing the U.S., which he said had denied Bashir a visa to attend the General Assembly (let us note, whatever one’s criticisms of the State Department, at least they got that much right). On the heels of all this, the UN Security Council finally eked out a “Toothless and Unfocused” resolution on Syria, or at least on Syria’s chemical weapons.
But for all that, the action is not quite over. Now comes that rarest of things at the UN General Assembly — a moment of truth. The GA General Debate — the parade of speakers across the main stage — takes a break on Sunday, then resumes on Monday and finishes up with a final morning session on Tuesday. That last round is when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak. Israel was represented at UN meetings last week by its strategic affairs minister, Yuval Steinitz. But for the finale, Netanyahu is flying in, going first to a meeting in Washington with President Obama, then addressing the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
He’ll have some highly varied company in the final lineup, which — in a brilliant illustration of the UN’s moral equivalence (or moral vertigo) — will also include both the Holy See and North Korea. But (and this is in no way to fault the Holy See), the big event on Tuesday is Netanyahu. For too many of the speakers who climb the UN stage to address the General Assembly, and the world, the main effort is to weave a web of diplomatic fictions. By lonely contrast, Netanyahu’s urgent effort, year after year, has been to sound the alarm about the realities of Iran’s advancing nuclear program, and the dangers it poses not only to Israel, or the Middle East, but to the world. With the clock ticking and the duplicitous deals cooking, never has this message been more urgent. Advance reports, as well as basic sanity, suggest he will make the case again. At the UN, that will go over far less well, to say the least, than the razzle-dazzle of last week’s Iranian “charm” offensive — a buffet of falsehoods more palatable to politicians than the crude realities of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism buying more time for making nuclear weapons. But for a moment of vital and urgent truth, delivered from the main stage of the UN, tune in Tuesday to the finale.