- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

The week that was

When Joss Whedon, the director of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” wanted to pep up the long-running series, he treated loyal fans to unprecedented creative risks like “the silent episode” and “the musical episode.”

One could argue “the silent annual General Assembly debate” would be of limited value. But the musical debate? Sign me up, Mr. Secretary-General.

The novelty might attract new viewers to the 62-year-old event, and probably wouldn’t turn away too many of those loyal observers, some of whom haven’t found much electrifying since Yasser Arafat wore an empty holster at the GA podium.

Even the Academy Awards swaps out producers and hosts every few years. The United Nations should consider doing the same.

Nevertheless, the first four days of “debate” — OK, OK, more like a dialogue of the deaf — did deliver some noteworthy moments, genuine surprises and keenly felt absences.

For those of you stuck in motorcade traffic on Second Avenue or absorbed in the pre-primary political circus, here are a few highlights:

The Cuban delegation walking out when President Bush offhandedly noted that “the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end” and — within minutes — issuing a press release in two languages denouncing the “arrogant and mediocre” speech.

Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner all but lunging over a metal barricade during an impromptu press conference when Al Jazeera’s unfailingly polite and professional Khaled Dawoud asked about the threat of war with Iran.

“You threaten me with your big eyes and your big mustache,” mocked the minister, gesturing with spread fingers as reporters and his own staff looked on in startled horror.

(Two points for the record: Mr. Dawoud’s mustache is not particularly big, and U.N. correspondents have long chaffed at the metal barrier separating us from the dignitaries, but it hadn’t really occurred to anyone until Thursday that it was for our own safety.)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez failing to smell the sulfur this year because he chickened out of his U.N. appearance the day before he was scheduled to speak. His office put out a statement saying he was tied up by business and also offended by Columbia University’s treatment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad.

The naming of newly minted British Foreign Minister David Miliband as the heartthrob of GA62. The 42-year-old Oxford grad is boy-band cute and impassioned on the podium. Check out the thinking woman’s Cliff Richard at www.david miliband.info.

Peel your ears

The annual debate resumes today. Among the speeches to look forward to: Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s address will surely give an indication of how her government views the White House’s November meeting on the Middle East. The possibility that the Israelis, Palestinians and their neighbors might finally be ready to make some difficult concessions in the pursuit of peace has tantalized diplomats and dominated regional discussions.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem is to take the same podium about 90 minutes later.

Burmese Foreign Minister Nian Win, — who is surely having the worst week of his life — will address the General Assembly tomorrow afternoon. No word on whether he will explain his government’s lockdown of thousands of Buddhist monks and the attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol — who this year is slightly less of a pariah now that his government has agreed to accept a 26,000-troop U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission — will speak Wednesday morning.

Betsy Pisik can be reached via e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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