More than 120 world leaders and officials spoke about their countries’ priorities and concerns at the U.N. headquarters in New York City from Sept. 24-30. They held high-level meetings on climate change, humanitarian needs for Syrian refugees and the unprecedented spread of the Ebola virus at this year’s 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly. You can view some of the highlights below.
Obama takes Syria, Russia to task
President Barack Obama dinged Russia for absorbing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and declared the extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq a “network of death” in his U.N. General Assembly speech on Wednesday.
“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness,” the president said.
Russia’s backing of the separatists in Eastern Ukraine challenges the notion that “people can decide their own future,” said President Obama.
The recent cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and Russia shows a diplomatic opening, the president said, and if Russia follows through, “we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges.”
President Obama urged U.N. member states, both big and small, to uphold international norms and stand together in the fight against the Islamic State militants.
He pointed to the “notinmyname” campaign started by young British Muslims to counteract the terrorist propaganda, and said that the U.N. Security Council will adopt a resolution later Wednesday “that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism.”
Many of the world’s problems — from violent extremism to the unwieldy outbreak of Ebola — stem from “the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world,” said the president.
“Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.”
The United Nations can renew itself and choose “hope over fear,” he said.
Societies must defeat terrorism, Qatar amir says
The leader of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, urged the international community to “work to end the bloodshed and destruction of Syria” that has put Syrians in the troubling spot of having to choose between “the terror of the regime” and terrorist forces.
Qatar is one of the Arab allies that helped the U.S. military launch airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State militants on Monday.
Terrorism can only be defeated within societies themselves, said Al Thani. They “must be convinced it’s their war, not to stabilize the regime that is oppressing them,” he said through a translator.
El-Sissi: Egypt is a ‘beacon of moderate Islam’
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi touted his country as a “beacon of moderate Islam” in his speech on Wednesday. After years of political and religious struggle, “Egypt today has regained its self-confidence,” he said.
Egypt is working on rebuilding its economy, he said, mentioning the Suez Canal project — a plan he announced in August to develop the Suez-Ismailia-Port Said region of northern Egypt to boost international trade.
He also spoke about the terrorism gripping his region. Terrorists aren’t bound by certain economic levels, they come from all walks of life, he said.
The way to defeat them is to establish the principles of equality for all citizens and respect for the rule of law, while ensuring rights to development to save society from exploitation and extremism, he said through a translator.
French president addresses beheading
France’s President Francois Hollande said his country, which just learned about the beheading of a French hostage by extremists in Algeria, is fully committed to the fight against terrorism.
Hollande called it a “cowardly” act, and described the slain hostage Herve Gourdel as “full of enthusiasm.”
“This (Islamic State) group is threatening the entire world by organizing attacks and recruiting fighters from all areas so they can reproduce sinister acts of terrorism,” he told the United Nations through a translator. That is why France has committed to act, because terrorism affects or will affect everyone, he said.
Turkey condemns pairing Islam with terrorism
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided those who connect Islam with the fighters who call themselves the Islamic State during his appearance at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. “Those labeling their inhuman actions as Islamic disrespect the religion of Islam and all religions,” he said through a translator.
Problems in Iraq and Syria have spread beyond their borders and created fertile ground for extremists, he said. The unresponsiveness in the United Nations cannot continue, he added.
Turkey has taken in 847,000 Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency, and resources with the country are stretched thin.
Erdogan focused on children dying in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere in his pitch for nations to act. “No one is innocent in a world in which children die and are killed,” he said.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, the UK and United States — frequently disagree on resolutions and have rendered the world body ineffective, said Erdogan. “The world is bigger than five” nations, he said.
UK calls for new U.N. post on extremism
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that the world must not only challenge violent extremism but non-violent extremism as well. He called for a new U.N. special representative to focus on tackling extremist ideologies.
“Would we sit back and allow right-wing extremists, Nazis or Ku Klux Klansmen to recruit on our university campuses?” he asked. “So we shouldn’t stand by and just allow any form of non-violent extremism.”
Rouhani: Mideast ‘burning in fire of extremism’
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his part of the world is “burning in fire of extremism and radicalism” at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. To uproot it, “we must spread justice and development,” he said.
He pinned the blame on the West. “The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle-East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists. Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East.
“We have always believed that democracy cannot be transplanted from abroad; democracy is the product of growth and development; not war and aggression.”
Australia: ‘Strong’ but ‘pragmatic’
When recounting his country’s efforts to help the world’s problems, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the United Nations, “We’re strong enough to be useful but pragmatic enough to know our limitations.”
He spoke specifically about the Australian government increasing trade ties with other nations to help build their economies. “We should put no limits on what we can achieve, especially when we work together.”
Abbott also said of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down in July over Ukraine and all passengers aboard killed: “We will do everything we can to ensure that the investigation is not undermined and that the crime is not covered up because that’s our duty to the 38 Australians murdered in this atrocity.”
DR Congo ‘stands ready’ to help on Ebola
Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said his country “stands ready” to send its experts on Ebola to other African nations now that its own outbreak is under control.
DR Congo has reported 71 cases of the Ebola virus and 40 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of the cases are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In October, DR Congo will set up centers to train health personnel to handle the epidemic, Kabila said.
Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama spoke at the United Nations about how countries had to do more to squelch the disease that is becoming a global threat.
Guinea’s Conde laments Ebola’s economic toll, stigmatization
President Alpha Conde of Guinea, a country struggling with Ebola since its reemergence in March, urged other U.N. member states to act quickly to stop the spread of the disease.
Guinea’s economy is expected to take a major hit in the areas of trade, investment and tourism. Ebola has caused borders to close, nations to suspend flights to Guinea, and the stigmatization of nationals, he said.
In a statement issued Friday, the World Health Organization said it is working with health experts in Guinea, along with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, on incorporating promising therapies into the treatment of infected individuals and removing “potential bottlenecks” in their distribution.
Abbas: No one will wonder ‘why extremism is rising’
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, said Israel “defied the world” by launching a war against Gaza earlier this year and that he would seek punishment for war crimes Israel committed.
Palestinians again find themselves “full of grief, regret and bitterness, raising the same long-standing conclusions and questions,” he said.
The incursion in July brought to new levels the destruction of Gaza and displaced about 500,000 people from the densely populated region, said Abbas.
“No one will wonder anymore why extremism is rising and why the culture of peace is losing ground and why the efforts to achieve it are collapsing,” he said.
Iraq is ‘determined to cleanse our land’ of terrorists
Iraq’s new President Fuad Masum thanked the international community on Friday for helping Iraqis fight the Islamic State militants taking root in their country. “We in Iraq are determined to cleanse our land” of the Islamic State group, he said.
By declaring a caliphate, the militants started drawing support from other extremists around the world, including Europe and the United States, said Masum. And they are taking terrorism to a new level, he said.
Iraqi armed forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga and other voluntary defense forces have been able to stop the IS fighters in certain areas, and military support from the United Nations, U.S., EU and other states played a vital role in assisting them, he said. “This support confirmed to our people that we are not fighting terror alone.”
Masum called for more regional cooperation in fighting the group, which “thrives on crises and disputes,” he said.
Foreign minister: Pressure on Russia won’t work
The U.S.-led Western alliance, which purports to be a champion of democracy, is actually the opposite by “trying to decide for everyone what is good or evil,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday at the U.N. General Assembly.
He said Washington uses unilateral force — “military interference has become a norm” — to uphold its own interests.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Europe have tried to expand their geopolitical control without taking into account the will of all European people, said Lavrov.
He said the United States supported the coup in Ukraine, which removed President Viktor Yanukovych in February, and backed Ukrainian authorities who were suppressing those within their country who wanted to defend their rights to their native language, culture and history. That led to the people of Crimea taking control of their destiny and voting to join Russia, he said.
“Russia is sincerely interested in the restoration of peace in the neighboring country,” and is implementing the terms of the cease-fire with Ukraine, Lavrov said. “The attempts to put pressure on Russia and to compel it to abandon its values, truth and justice have no prospects whatsoever.”
No speeches today.
Syria: No political solution until terrorism is stopped
The Islamic State extremists are unrivaled in brutality and the international community should stand together against them, said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. He said there can be no political solution in Syria until the terrorism is ended.
The terrorists have raped women, sold them in slave markets, cut off people’s heads and limbs, and taught children about murder, and they will continue to spread their influence in other places, including Europe and the United States, he said. “Hasn’t the time come for all of us to stand as one in the face of this serious menace?”
The U.S. administration is showing a double standard by supporting the moderate rebels with money, weapons and training, said al-Moualem. This is a recipe for an increase in terrorism and violence, prolonging the Syrian crisis and providing fertile ground for terrorist groups, he said.
Al-Moualem said Syria agreed to attend the Geneva II deliberations, only to find a delegation that didn’t negotiate on behalf of the Syrians on the ground and refused to ask terrorist groups to end their campaign.
“We believe we cannot start any political solution while terrorism is still rampant in the region,” he said through a translator.
He also criticized the sanctions imposed by the European Union and United States, saying they aggravated the hardship of the Syrian people.
The Syrian people voted for Bashar al-Assad to continue as president, and their will must be respected, he said.
Israel’s Netanyahu likens Hamas to militant Islamists
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday that militant Islamists are on the march and Hamas is with them. “They all share a fanatic ideology” of Islam, he said.
Hamas wants to destroy Israel, and it shares the global ambitions of its global militant Islamists, who have Muslims, Christians, Jews, and all ethnic and faith groups in their sights, Netanyahu said. The Islamic State militants “and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”
Netanyahu criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for “bemoaning” the Islamic State militants, while trying to acquire nuclear weapons in Iran and use them against Israel. “Iran’s nuclear military capabilities must be dismantled,” he said.
To defeat the Islamic State group and leave Iran to be a nuclear power “is to win the battle and lose the war,” he added.
Netanyahu also addressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying the war crimes he should be investigating are the actions of Hamas planting its weapons caches among schools and other civilian sites.
Ebola demands quicker response, African officials say
Officials from two of the countries hardest hit by Ebola — Liberia and Sierra Leone — said Monday their nations are buckling under the deadly disease but will survive.
“Ebola has confounded all of us and has sprinted faster than our collective effort,” said Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.
According to the World Health Organization, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have 6,553 confirmed cases of Ebola and 3,083 deaths.
Because many health workers have died while treating those with Ebola, there are fewer medical personnel around to help with other diseases, such as malaria, typhoid and measles, leading to even more deaths, he said.
“Ebola is not just a health crisis,” but an economic one as well that already has caused a 3.4 percent decline in Liberia’s economic growth, said Ngafuan. The suspension of flights and other restrictions and sanctions imposed on Liberia are aggravating the problem, he said.
Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister Samura Kamara said his country, the region and the global community “were grossly ill prepared” for the Ebola virus, which broke out in March.
The international community was slow to act, he said, but is now gearing up its efforts. Now that the full impact of the disease is recognized, it calls for heavy aerial and ground support to stop the outbreak, “which in many ways is worse than terrorism,” he said.
“To defeat the disease and future outbreaks anywhere in the world, we must improve our capacities for a quicker response.”
Small Pacific islands at ‘tipping point’
Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato said Tuesday that small islands in the Pacific Ocean are suffering “serious” challenges from climate change, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, salt infiltrating fresh water, severe droughts, flooding and the loss of vital infrastructure.
The islands are responding by “working smarter and harder to improve the livelihoods of people at risk,” he said, urging larger nations for their support. “Many of the [small island developing states], especially in the Pacific, have reached a tipping point.”
Earlier in the week, Ursula Rakova, executive director of Tulele Peisa, explained to a group of reporters in New York how her organization is helping people on the shrinking Carteret Islands voluntarily move to the Bougainville mainland and get jobs.
Tulele Peisa, which means “Sailing the waves on our own” in the Halia language, has moved seven families to the mainland so far, but eventually must relocate 150 families from the disappearing islands, said Rakova.
“When it’s high tide and you’re sleeping on the land, it’s almost like the seas are higher than you,” she said. The islands are losing prime growing habitat, and diseases such as dysentery and malaria are on the rise.
People are becoming malnourished, said Rakova. “Imagine you are living on coconut and fish every day. People who are new to the island think it’s a good life. But it’s not a life.”
Her organization resettles the new inhabitants on unused land donated by churches, and plants cocoa trees and other crops at the new site to help the families earn a living.
So far, it hasn’t been too hard to move the 18-to-45 year olds, who are willing to start a new life, she said, but the older people who live in the Carterets don’t want to go.
“We are fortunate that we have a bigger island to move to,” she added.
The reporting from New York was supported in part by the U.N. Foundation’s press fellowship program.