- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

NEW YORK — Pushed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his prodigious work ethic, diplomats this week are engaged in what Mr. Ban has called “the most intense” period of diplomacy in U.N. history.

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The main event, attracting a diverse group of world leaders from President Bush to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is the annual General Assembly opening debate, which begins with speeches by Mr. Bush and others tomorrow.

But Mr. Ban and various leaders already have taken part in weekend meetings on Sudan”s Darfur region, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Today, ministers of foreign affairs and the environment will participate in a daylong session on climate change.

The weekend conferences, including a session last night of the Middle East Quartet, have forced governments to focus on some of the world body’s thorniest projects, which is just what the new secretary-general wanted.

“This will be a most intense period of multilateral diplomacy ever in the United Nations history, I believe,” Mr. Ban said last week. “As we move well into the 21st century, the United Nations is, once again, the global forum where issues are discussed and solutions are hammered out.”

Mr. Bush, who begins a three-day stay in New York today, has a packed schedule. He meets today with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva before attending a dinner with foreign leaders to discuss climate change.

Tomorrow, he meets with Mr. Ban, delivers his speech to the General Assembly and meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. On Wednesday, he talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before returning to Washington.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, already has generated headlines with a proposal to visit ground zero, the site of the Twin Towers felled by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

His visit — including a scheduled appearance at Columbia University this afternoon — has generated outcries from 2008 presidential candidates, the New York Police Department and activists from all corners of the peace movement.

Foreign leaders hostile to the United States have long found the U.N. opening an irresistible opportunity to tweak U.S. leaders. Last year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attacked Mr. Bush from the podium as a drunk and a devil.

The threat of global warming is likely to be one of the thickest threads running through the annual debate, which runs for more than seven days and will likely include 80 world leaders or their senior ministers.

The back-to-back speeches often are a recitation of familiar themes, aimed as much at the audiences back home as at the other delegates. Any real exchange of ideas is likely to take place on the sidelines, not in the carefully prepared speeches.

Developing countries are expected to emphasize their commitment to good governance, the need for debt relief and a package of poverty reduction initiatives known as the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the enlargement of the U.N. Security Council.

The industrialized nations, meanwhile, are likely to focus on terrorism, nuclear proliferation and human rights.

The environment will figure heavily in nearly all the speeches, as leaders grapple with the predicted consequences of global warming — including rising seas that will consume small islands and creeping desertification that renders arable land almost useless.

“It is expensive to mitigate and adapt, but money spent now will save money later,” said Francesco Bandarin of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, who warned that 125 World Heritage Sites will be destroyed if no action is taken to protect them. “We must immediately improve monitoring and early-warning systems, even before global action is taken.”

Away from the spotlight, Mr. Ban has scheduled roughly 100 bilateral meetings with visiting heads of delegation, while thousands more are scheduled at U.N. headquarters and in diplomatic missions and hotel rooms throughout Midtown Manhattan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in New York most of the week, meeting with foreign ministers from South Korea, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India and Turkey, and spending time with her Security Council member-country counterparts.

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