UN meeting that began with unity concludes with divisions

Full Screen
1 / 11

In this photo provided by the United Nations, Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. (Rick Bajornas/UN Photo via AP)

TANZANIA – This year's U.N. General Assembly meeting began with calls for multilateralism and cooperation — a declaration that the urgency for countries to unite “has rarely been greater.” It concluded with a parade of divisive grievances that echoed when the final gavel fell.

Leader after leader in days of speeches delivered virtually stressed the importance of working together to navigate the coronavirus outbreak and the challenges that lie beyond it. As Germany’s foreign minister put it, COVID-19 “shows that international cooperation is neither an ideology nor an end in itself. On the contrary, it delivers results, far beyond the actual pandemic.”

Words, though, are not results. Though the U.N. and most of its member states largely envision a multilateral world, the underlying issues and challenges that divide nations sat squarely in the spotlight, as the “right of reply” at the end of the closing session demonstrated vividly.

One by one they came forward — lower-level diplomats tasked with replying to leaders’ speeches with intense responses.

On the hot-button conflict of the moment, between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, diplomats from the two countries went after each other over responsibility for the latest fighting. Bangladesh went after Myanmar over the more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a crackdown by Myanmar’s military in 2017 and are living in camps in Bangladesh, still fearful of returning home -- and Myanmar responded.

Iran went after Israel over the speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed that the Islamic Republic would have “enough enriched uranium in a few months for two nuclear bombs” after it recently began exceeding limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

An Iranian diplomat accused Israel of disregarding U.N. resolutions on negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and countered that Israel “poses the most serious threats to the security of the states in the Middle East” because of its widely reported nuclear program, which Israel has never acknowledged.

The United Arab Emirates took the floor over a dispute with Iran over three Iranian-occupied islands the UAE claims and Tehran’s “destabilizing conduct” in the region, including supporting Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen. The UAE, in turn, vehemently dismissed Iran’s allegation that the UAE was destabilizing Mideast security.