Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

World leaders descended on New York City last week for the 67th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. Dozens of the world’s most recognizable political figures and their diplomatic delegations gathered for a perennial discussion of the world’s current pressing challenges. This year, these challenges were centered on Iran’s nuclear threat, the recent ongoing protests in the Middle East and related issues of free speech.

President Barack Obama paid an unusually short visit to the U.N. this election year, staying in New York for just under 24 hours before returning to the White House and the campaign trail. He did not participate in any bilateral meetings with world leaders while at the U.N.

In his address to the General Assembly on the morning of Sept. 25, President Obama responded, for the first time on a global stage, to the recent Middle East violence triggered by an amateur anti-Islam video made in the U.S.

“The turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot,” said Obama. “In other words, true democracy — real freedom — is hard work.”

Obama reminded the U.N. that the past year has seen the seeds of democracy sown in

places like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, while a renewal of “this democratic spirit” has swept through Somalia, Burma, Malawi and Senegal.

Although he denounced the inflammatory video, the President also delivered a staunch defense of freedom of speech and called on all world leaders to reject politics based on hatred, division, anger and violence.

The President treaded a fine line on Iran, expressing a desire to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomacy while warning that “time is not unlimited” for such a solution. For Syria, Obama promised “sanctions and consequences for those who persecute” without further detail.

The day after Obama’s address, Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad took to the podium to address the 193-member U.N. body for the eighth time. Continuing with past themes of anti-Western criticism, Ahmadinejad railed against the “current international order.” He provided a grim summary of the current economic, political and cultural situation of the world while denouncing the reigning world order as one based on “selfishness, deception, hatred and animosity.”

The Iranian president was less outwardly offensive than in previous years in what was his final speech to the General Assembly. However, he stood firm in the face of increasing pressure against Iranian nuclear ambitions, citing the Israeli military threat as a “bitter reality” of intimidation by hegemonic nuclear powers.

The day after Ahmadinejad spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an attention-grabbing presentation to the body, mainly focused on the threats of radical Islam and the Iranian regime.

Netanyahu presented the assembly with a now famous diagram of a nuclear bomb denoting the three successive stages of uranium enrichment. Netanyahu told the U.N. that Iran has completed the low-enrichment stage and is on its way to medium-enrichment stage completion by next summer.

The Prime Minister then used a marker to draw a red line at the top of this second stage of enrichment, just below the fuse in the bomb diagram. He implored the international community to draw this red line with the Iranian regime to preserve peace and stability.

According to Netanyahu, finishing the third and final stage of building a bomb would come only a few months, maybe a few weeks, after the position of the red line.