A new session of the United Nations General Assembly has opened in New York, with a sharp attack on the United States by the assembly's president, former Nicaraguan foreign minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. VOA's Walter Wisniewski reports from our New York newscenter.
The past year's General Assembly of the United Nations has come to a close, and the new, 63rd session of the General Assembly is now formally open. World leaders will address the annual U.N. meeting next week, but the Assembly's incoming president caught diplomats' attention Tuesday with his opening remarks, a scathing attack on U.S. policies.
The General Assembly president, former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, mentioned the United States by name only a few times, but made it clear who his target was.
D'Escoto says it is "undeniable" that some members of the Security Council have "an addiction to war," and he says they are threatening international peace and security. In a scarcely veiled reference to President George W. Bush's administration, d'Escoto also said no nation has the right "to decide on its own which states are sponsors of terrorism, and which are not."
"By now, over 1.2 million people have died as a direct consequence of that aggression and occupation," d'Escoto said about the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The 75-year-old diplomat, who is a Roman Catholic priest, told reporters later he intends to try to reform the U.N. to give the 192-member General Assembly a stronger role, compared to the Security Council, whose permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - have veto power over U.N. decisions.
D'Escoto says the world has changed since 1945, when the United Nations was founded, but the U.N. has not kept pace. He predicts "soul-searching" and frank debate at the General Assembly in the weeks and months to come.
"This will be an interesting year, and I will be making an appeal from the very depth of my heart and my experience," he said.
D'Escoto used spiritual terms in his opening speech, which he addressed to "my dear brothers and sisters" from all over the world. Asked about the significance of his dual role as General Assembly president and also a priest, he tried to deflect the comment with a joke.
"I'm also the oldest and the most decrepit [laughter], healthwise, and I know that. But will I, therefore, because I am a priest, pay particular attention to interfaith dialogue?" he asked. "That's already on the agenda. This is something that I have spoken about quite a bit with the secretary-general, and he is asking me to join him in this effort."
He was asked about his scheduled appearance at a forum next week together with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction several times. D'Escoto says he does not feel it is inappropriate for him to take part.
"Obviously, if I am here talking about brotherhood and sisterhood, I don't want anyone to be wiped off the map - not even any individual, much less a state," he said.
He also pretended not to hear when another reporter asked whether he would condemn Russia's military action against Georgia last month constituted an act of aggression. D'Escoto, who has embraced leftist policies for decades, said he did feel that any act of aggression in the Caucasus region was committed by Georgia, against South Ossetia.
Heads of state and government will be streaming into New York over the next few days, before the General Assembly's traditional round of speeches by each leader begins next Tuesday.