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World leaders gather at UN

Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, United Nations

UN building in New York
The general debate is the UN General Assembly's 63rd session

More than 100 heads of state and government are gathering at the United Nations in New York ahead of the General Assembly's General Debate, which gets under way on Tuesday.

They are gathering against a backdrop of global financial turbulence and high tension between Russia and the West in the wake of the Georgian crisis.

The talk in the corridors is of the new Cold War, and the political animosity between Russia and the US can be felt.

A test of Russia's relations with the West post Georgia will come when foreign ministers from six major powers meet on the sidelines of the General Debate to discuss Iran.

Russia has previously supported UN Security Council sanctions against Iran for its failure to stop enriching uranium, not wanting to see its near neighbour with a nuclear bomb, but now Russia rejects US calls for additional sanctions against Iran.

The White House has already signalled that President George W Bush will use his speech here on Tuesday to urge Russia to honour its commitments to fully withdraw its troops from Georgia.

Sudanese dispute

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants to focus this week on getting world leaders to agree on how to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the ambitious set of targets aimed at halving world poverty by 2015.

The issue of Sudan's efforts to give President Bashir a get-out-of-jail-free card will permeate both the general debate and the ministerial consultations
Richard Dicker
Human Rights Watch

However, with market mayhem and rising food prices, persuading politicians to focus on the plight of the world's poorest rather than their own domestic constituencies could be a tough sell.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are finding it hardest to meet the MDGs and a special meeting on Africa's development needs will be held on Monday.

An underlying theme of this week will be Sudan's attempts to stave off a possible prosecution of President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, asked the judges for an arrest warrant for Sudan's president in July and the judges have not yet come back with a response.

The African Union wants the UN Security Council to use its power under article 16 of the Rome Treaty to suspend the investigation of President Bashir for a year, arguing that it is undermining the search for peace in Darfur. Leaders from Africa and the Middle East are expected to use their speeches here to underline that call.

Behind the scenes South Africa and Libya are considering whether to put forward a draft Security Council resolution calling for an Article 16 deferral.

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Laura Trevelyan goes behind the scenes at the UN

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch in New York says:

"The issue of Sudan's efforts to give President Bashir a get-out-of-jail-free card will permeate both the general debate and the ministerial consultations."

Deferring a prosecution of Sudan's president in the hope that this will bring about peace in Darfur is, says Mr Dicker, a "fool's bargain".

Already in the corridors here UN staffers have put up temporary screens known as the booths, where world leaders meet and negotiate privately. From the state of the peace deal in Zimbabwe, to the fall-out from Georgia and the global financial crisis, there is much to ponder.


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