Regional disputes and nuclear rivalry dominated U.N. General Assembly speeches Thursday. From U.N. headquarters, representatives of North Korea, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Palestinian observer delegation fired rhetorical broadsides as the annual debate neared its conclusion.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa hailed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza as an important development. But in a toughly worded speech, said he was pessimistic about Israeli activities in the West Bank.
As heard through an interpreter, the Palestinian minister urged the international community to demand a halt to the construction of new settlements and the separation barrier.
"Our central mission, the mission for the international community if we wish to safeguard the future of the Middle East and maintain the prospects for peace, is to bring about a real and complete cessation of all settlement activities and the construction of the wall and enforce the rule of law," he said.
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Drascovic warned the Assembly Thursday that minority Serbs in Kosovo face the threat of "pogroms" by the region's ethnic Albanian majority. He was also heard through an interpreter.
"For months now, Albanian extremists are issuing open threats of pogrom against the remaining Serbs, Montenegrins and other non-Albanians, unless their ultimatum on the proclamation of Kosovo as an independent state are met. Recent killings of young Serbs announced this scenario," he said.
Mr. Drascovic told the Assembly Serbia would accept a status for Kosovo that was more than limited autonomy, but less than full independence. He warned the United Nations not to consider independence as an option for the province.
North Korea's deputy Foreign Minister, Choe Su Hon, used his speech to restate Pyongyang's demand that the United States provide it with civilian nuclear reactors as soon as possible. A six-party agreement reached last Monday in Beijing calls for Washington to provide a light-water reactor at an appropriate time.
U.S. officials have said that time should be after North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons program. But Mr. Choe, heard through an interpreter, said his country, which he referred to by its formal acronym DPRK, wants the reactor now. "What is most essential at this stage is for the United States to provide light-water reactors to the DPRK as soon as possible as evidence proving the former's substantial recognition of the latter's right to peaceful nuclear activities," he said.
Mr. Choe later told a group of reporters that the chief U.S. negotiator at the six-party talks was welcome to visit North Korea to resolve the nuclear dispute.
Mr. Choe also said he had advised U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan this week that North Korea no longer needs humanitarian assistance. He said a good harvest had eased the country's food shortage.
That assessment appears to be at odds with recent estimates by the U.N.-run World Food Program. An agency report shows North Korea will receive nearly 450-thousand tons of food this year.
The annual U.N. General Assembly debate is due to end Friday with addresses from nearly 30 countries, including Syria and Pakistan. This year's speech-making continued for 11 consecutive days, including a three-day summit marking the world body's 60th anniversary. More than 150 heads of state and government attended, making it the largest-ever gathering of its kind.