The potential for tension and confrontation surrounds the annual United Nations General Assembly, but the meeting has started sleepily.
“There is no new news here . . . I have heard it all before," was the frank assessment of Tuesday’s opening day by a reporter for the Arabic language satellite news channel Al Alam.
The three-week assembly was to be highlighted, in part, with President George W. Bush's farewell to the 192-member U.N. body.
Bush’s departing speech Tuesday combined a recap of some his diplomatic triumphs with a warning to the international community about the issues it needs to address.
The audience included some of Bush's most vocal critics: the presidents of Iran, Brazil and Nicaragua. Although some VIP's took to mild finger-pointing at the White House, there were none of the theatrics such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who danced on the U.N. platform in 2006 as he called President Bush "The Devil."
But this time, he escaped relatively unscathed by the time he left New York Wednesday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may not fare as well as she convenes a series of private meetings the rest of the week, State Department sources tell Newsmax.
Confrontation was possible with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is to address the U.N. on Saturday. Lavrov, Russia's former U.N. ambassador and longtime New York society figure, is expected to have some colorful exchanges on topics ranging from the Russian invasion of Georgia to Moscow's nuclear business deals with Iran.
The relationship between Rice and Lavrov has been strained since their first meeting as chief foreign policy architects in 2005.
Rice, who prides herself as an academic specializing in Russian affairs, is said to have opened that meeting speaking Russian.
Lavrov, a noted lover of Dunhill cigarettes and Johnnie Walker Black Label, also is known for his sharp tongue and short patience. He reportedly responded to Rice, "Please, speak English," according to participants at the meeting.
Rice also is scheduled to see Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is expected to complain about the lack of substantive support from the White House over the Russian invasion of his country.
Meanwhile, the eagerly anticipated visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been a disappointment. The fiery Iranian leader broke no new ground during a rambling U.N. speech and a subsequent one-hour news conference.
Privately, Iranian sources tell Newsmax that Ahmadinejad was taking a wait-and-see approach because of the upcoming U.S. elections.
He wants to see who wins and to be open to the new U.S. administration, several Iranians explained.
The atmosphere at U.N. headquarters was so mundane that many reporters were traveling across midtown to cover former President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative sessions. They figured them might find some entertainment or business news among Bono, Bill Gates and Barbra Streisand.
And one reporter added: "The food over there is probably better, too."
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