COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

  • The leaders of the US, Egypt and Turkey raised the issue of Palestinian rights and statehood, and called for a just and comprehensive solution
  • Iran’s president took aim at Washington, saying it has ‘no credibility; Qatar’s emir hailed the resolution of the dispute with neighboring countries

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first day of speeches by world leaders during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. But some also took the opportunity to raise the question of Palestinian statehood and express their fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

The leaders of the US, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among the premiers who addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. The speeches continued late into the evening, with many running over their allotted 15-minute slots.

US President Joe Biden declared that the US is back on the world stage and remains committed to multilateralism. As evidence of this he cited the nation’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and its contribution to the international Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward the global COVID response,” said Biden, who was making his first in-person speech to the UN as president. “We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” with “no strings attached.”

Moving on to other issues, he called for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, saying that this is the “best way” to safeguard Israel’s future.

“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said. “The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question, and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal.

“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.

“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Biden said: “We’re prepared to return to full compliance (with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) if Iran does the same.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“There can be no stability in the Middle East without a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian question, which remains the central cause of instability for the Arab region,” he said. “This must happen in accordance with international resolutions to establish a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Egypt also calls upon the international community to take the necessary measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.”

Turning his attention to matters closer to home, El-Sisi said Egypt is “immensely proud” of its African identity but decried the lack of progress in negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Located upriver on the Nile, Egyptian authorities say it threatens their country’s existence due to its reliance on Nile water.

In his prerecorded speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office this year, took aim at the US over its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Capitol riots in Washington on Jan. 6, saying that America has “no credibility.”

He also blamed American authorities for causing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran, accusing them of preventing the country from obtaining vaccine supplies. He failed to mention that in January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of Western-produced vaccines, falsely claiming they could not be trusted. The ban was subsequently reversed but left Iran facing relentless waves of COVID-19 infections.

Raisi also attempted to convince world leaders that his country does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. “Nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy,” he said.

He also made a plea for sanctions relief, saying: “The Islamic Republic considers useful the talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”

The leaders of Qatar and Turkey called on the international community to cooperate in delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani also urged the world to take action to fight what he called the “other pandemic:” COVID-19 misinformation.

He also celebrated his country’s return to the fold of Middle East diplomacy in January, after a dispute with a number of neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia, was resolved through the AlUla declaration.

“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and our commitment to settling any differences through constructive dialogue,” he said. “The AlUla declaration came as an embodiment of the principle of settling differences through dialogue.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would soon start to provide vaccines produced there to the international community. He also echoed the comments by other leaders about the importance of working to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Heads of state will continue to address the General Assembly throughout the week. The speech by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.


France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

Updated 54 min 53 sec ago

France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

  • US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at meetings in Paris
  • Iran’s new government has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date

PARIS: France on Friday urged Iran to curb nuclear activities of “unprecedented gravity” as US and European envoys met to discuss efforts aimed at reviving the troubled 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at the meetings in Paris, at what the French Foreign Ministry called a “critical time” in efforts to salvage the accord.
“It is urgent and crucial for Iran to end the activities of unprecedented gravity that it is conducting in violation of the (agreement) and to immediately resume full-fledged cooperation” with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said in an online briefing.
The IAEA is charged with monitoring the 2015 accord, which was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. The US pulled out of the accord under Donald Trump and re-imposed sanctions.
Since then Iran has stepped up nuclear activity and is now in violation of several aspects of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Iran’s nuclear activity includes enriching uranium which Western nations fear could be used to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies any such ambitions.
The US and European partners are ready to return immediately to negotiations with Iran “in order to swiftly conclude an agreement on Iran’s return to its commitments and the United States’ return to the JCPOA,” Legendre said.
Iran’s new hard-line government led by President Ebrahim Raisi, which took power in August, has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date.


Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

Updated 22 October 2021

Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

  • The designations authorise Israeli authorities to close the groups' offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank
  • Israel's defence ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

TEL AVIV: Israel on Friday designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations and accused them of funnelling donor aid to militants.
The charge was rejected by human rights watchdogs who said the move will stifle monitoring of potential abuses.
The designations authorize Israeli authorities to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank, watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement condemning the move.
Israel’s defense ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a left-wing faction with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
“(The) declared organizations received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using a variety of forgery and deceit,” the defense ministry said in a statement, alleging the money had supported PFLP’s activities.
The groups include leading Palestinian human rights organizations Al-Haq and Addameer, who document alleged rights violations by both Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Asked for comment, an official with PFLP, which is on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist, did not outright reject ties to the six groups but said they maintain relations with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.
“It is part of the rough battle Israel is launching against the Palestinian people and against civil society groups, in order to exhaust them,” PFLP official Kayed Al-Ghoul said.
Al-Haq did not immediately provide comment. Addameer and another one of the designated groups, Defense for Children International — Palestine, rejected the Israeli accusations as an “attempt to eliminate Palestinian civil society.”
The other three groups listed did not immediately provide comment.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the “decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
They added: “The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territories for a future state.


127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

Updated 22 October 2021

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

  • 127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday
  • Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea

TRIPOLI: A group of Gambian migrants stranded in Libya have been repatriated, the United Nations’ migration agency said Friday, the first such evacuation flight in months.
“127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return program received clearance to resume humanitarian flights from #Libya,” the International Organization for Migration said in a tweet.
Rocked by a decade of lawlessness and war, Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea.
But many end up becoming stranded in Libya, where they face grave abuses, according to international rights groups and UN agencies.
The resumption of humanitarian flights came as Tripoli hosted an international conference to seek support for stability in Libya.
The UN’s vice-head for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, used the conference to urge authorities to speed up repatriations and release migrants in detention.
Libyan authorities faced international outcry earlier this month after carrying out sweeping raids described by Doctors without Borders as “violent mass arrests” that left at least one person dead.
Days later, guards had shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in Tripoli, while at least 24 others were wounded, the IOM said.
Some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos.
The Libyan interior ministry said a “stampede” had left an “irregular migrant” dead and wounded others as well as several police officers.
The United Nations has in the past offered flights for migrants voluntarily seeking repatriation.
Its refugee agency, the UNHCR, organized one such flight to Rwanda in July with 133 asylum seekers on board — the only one authorized by Libyan authorities this year.
The UNHCR on Friday welcomed the resumption of humanitarian evacuation flights but warned that “it is not enough.”
“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart,” its regional envoy Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
“But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”
The UNHCR urged the Libyan government to “immediately address the dire situation of asylum seekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are currently prioritized for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption, it said.

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In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

Updated 22 October 2021

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

  • This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan
  • The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May

MALUALKON, South Sudan: He feels like a man who has drowned.
The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass. His field of sorghum, which fed his family, is under water. Surrounding mud dykes have collapsed.
Other people have fled. Only Yel Aguer Deng’s family and a few neighbors remain.
This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperiling livelihoods of many of the 11 million people in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now climate change, which the United Nations has blamed on the flooding, is impossible to ignore.
As he empties a fishing net, Daniel Deng, a 50-year-old father of seven, recalls a life of being forced to flee again and again because of insecurity. “But this one event (the flood) is too much,” he said. “It is the worst thing that happened in my lifetime.”
The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May. Here in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the Lol river has burst its banks.
This state is usually spared from extreme flooding that plagues the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Unity that border the White Nile and the Sudd marshlands. But now, houses and crops have been swamped.
A new report this week coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing such climate shocks to come across much of Africa, the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will suffer from it most.
In these rural South Sudan communities, shelters of braided grass put up a fragile resistance in a land of seemingly endless water.
In Langic village, Ajou Bol Yel’s family of seven hosted nine neighbors who had lost their homes. The elders sleep outside on beds protected by mosquito nets, while the children share the floor.
In Majak Awar, some 100 families have been displaced twice, in June when homes were flooded and again in August when their shelters were ruined, too.
“I want to leave for Sudan,” whispered Nyibol Arop, a 27-year-old mother of five, as she boiled her morning tea just steps away from the stagnant water that threatens her current shelter.
It is hard to see a stable future when constantly on the move, a lesson learned during the civil war that displaced millions of people before a peace agreement in 2018.
“Floods are not constant. Some people will stay, and some will go,” said Thomas Mapol, a 45-year-old father of nine, as he showed off the destroyed houses of his village near Majak Awar. “But me, I cannot move anywhere. There is no other place that I know.”


Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Updated 22 October 2021

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

  • Pavilion is one of the largest at the event and could remain as a permanent structure once the expo is over
  • The pavilion’s launch coincides with year-long celebrations marking 75 years of Indian independence 

DUBAI: Stepping into India’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is like being instantly transported from the skyscraper-dominated skyline of the Middle East’s commercial capital to the hustle and bustle of South Asia.

The pavilion, located in Al-Forsan Crescent in the expo’s Opportunity District, is one of the largest at the event. Designed by CP Kukreja Architects in Delhi, it features an innovative kinetic facade made up of 600 individual blocks in assorted hues of brown and beige — not entirely unlike the desert landscape outside — arranged in a mosaic of panels, each of which rotates on an axis.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The design is intended to represent India’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move;” a country rooted in its rich heritage but also avant-garde and innovative in its approach to technological and economic advances.

The pavilion is also a nod to the nation’s fight against COVID-19 and the various reforms implemented by the government to prepare for what is hoped will be a period of high and accelerated growth as India strives to become a $5 trillion economy.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

“The pavilion takes visitors through the numerous phases of development and the unparalleled growth trajectory that India has experienced in all sectors, ranging from health and wellness, climate change, biodiversity, food agriculture to accomplishments in space,” Aman Puri, the pavilion’s commissioner general and the consul general of India in Dubai, told Arab News.

“We have a wide assortment of festivals and celebrations to offer at the pavilion, which provide our visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get the … feel of the diverse Indian culture.”

Visitors are greeted warmly as they arrive at the state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site and showcases the nation’s cultural treasures and technological marvels.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

As they move along a winding pathway they pass by a live yoga display in an area surrounded by greenery, a demonstration of Ayurveda, India’s ancient art of wellness, and a sharply contrasting area dedicated to India’s space program.

Visitors then move up through several levels that offer insights into various aspects of Indian culture, heritage and modern-day achievements. Massive floor-to-ceiling LED screens show images of Indian dancers and traditional ceremonies, and showcase the nation’s successes in the fields of robotics, energy, e-commerce, healthcare, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

A number of conference rooms and meeting spaces will be used to host talks and networking events in the coming months in an attempt to encourage the forging of new international business relationships with India.

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

“The expo is an important occasion to exhibit and invite the world to participate in India’s economic growth by utilizing the existing Indian talent base, creating additional employment opportunities, and empowering the secondary and tertiary sectors,” said Puri.

“The plethora of global discussions, business and investment summits will focus on creating synergies and providing opportunities to explore and accelerate trade partnerships.”

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

INNUMBERS

8.5 million - Population of overseas Indians in the Gulf states (2018).

(Source: GoI, Ministry of External Affairs)

Noting that India is “a country of start-up unicorns, and with an ecosystem of more than 50,000 recognized start-ups,” Puri said that “the Innovation Hub at the India pavilion will host several leading startups from India. Expo 2020 Dubai will be an excellent platform for these startups to engage with the global market.”

As it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, India has set its sights on becoming a high-tech, $5 trillion economy. (Credit: Supplied)

Among the events the pavilion will host is a World Majlis, which includes a program of talks including: Lessons from Space, on Oct. 19; Cities on the Move, on Nov. 2; and Off the Beaten Path, on Jan. 13.

For those interested in sampling some of India’s heritage, arts and crafts, and cultural treasures, the pavilion features a retail area with shops selling gemstones, textiles and pashminas from Jodhpur, Rajasthan and Jaipur.

And of course there is also a food court offering a wide range of Indian delicacies, along with a fine-dining restaurant, managed by Taj Hotels, where visitors can feast on a selection of the country’s rich culinary offerings.

The pavilion will also offer a packed schedule of indoor and outdoor performances of traditional Indian music and dance. In addition, visitors are invited to take part in festivities such as Diwali, the festival of light, and Holi, the festival of color.

 India’s state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site, showcases the nation’s cultural treasures alongside its technological marvels. (Credit: Supplied)

There are plans for the pavilion to remain as a permanent space for cultural and business exchange after the expo concludes, a testament to the long-standing relationship between the UAE and India.

About 2.75 million Indian nationals live in the UAE, representing 27 percent of the Gulf state’s population of about 10 million. The majority work in the service industry, which was badly hit by the precautionary lockdown measures during the pandemic. As a result, many Indian expats were forced to return home.

India’s participation at the expo coincides with the Indian government’s Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, also known as [email protected], a year-long celebration of the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The Indian consulate has launched a number of special events, in addition to those taking place at the expo, to mark the anniversary, including competitions, documentary screenings and art exhibitions. The consulate is also reportedly planning a joint celebration to coincide with the 50th UAE National Day on Dec. 2, in celebration of the bond of friendship between the nations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the 35th World Expo. The previous one was in Milan in 2015, and the next is scheduled to take place in 2025 in the Japanese city of Osaka, which also hosted the 1970 World Expo.

People attend the opening ceremony of the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on September 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo)

The event dates back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London, the first of what came to be called World Expos. In recent years have been staged every five years in a host city for a period ranging from three to six months.

Since 2013, when Dubai impressed a selection panel in Paris with its bid for the 2020 event, the expo has been one the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events in the UAE.

Organizers say the expo, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic and finally got underway on Oct. 1 this year, provides a showcase for more than 200 participating entities, including 192 countries, and features 60 events. About 25 million visitors are expected before it closes in April.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

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