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World Leaders Address UN General Assembly

25 September 2007

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the annual U.N. General Assembly debate Tuesday saying the world faces a "daunting array of challenges," including nuclear proliferation, the crisis in Darfur, the need for peace in the Middle East and climate change. Several world leaders followed, using the platform to raise a number of issues. VOA's Margaret Besheer at the United Nations has more.

Presiding over his first General Assembly as Secretary-General, Mr. Ban said the world needs a stronger and more modern United Nations to cope with the challenges before it.

"My vision is an administration focused on results - efficient, directed, pragmatic and accountable - an administration representing excellence, integrity and pride in serving the global good," he said.

Twelve leaders addressed the General Assembly's morning session. U.S. President George Bush gave a wide-ranging speech on education, the eradication of poverty and disease, and on human rights.

He singled out recent pro-democracy demonstrations against the military dictatorship in Burma, saying Americans are outraged by the situation there, where the military leaders have imposed a 19-year long reign of fear. He announced new sanctions against the government, and urged other nations to follow suit.

"The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers," said Bush. "We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members."

The issue of nuclear proliferation was on several speakers' agendas. Secretary-General Ban says he is encouraged by recent progress on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, and he believes the Iranian nuclear issue can be peacefully resolved.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran is entitled to nuclear power for civilian energy, but not for military purposes. Mr. Sarkozy said there will be no peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"Iran is entitled to nuclear power for civilian purposes, but if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons we would incur an unacceptable risk to the stability of the region and the stability of the world. In the name of France, I want to say that this crisis can only be resolved if resolve and dialogue go hand-in-hand," he said. "It is in that spirit that France will act."

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega took a different stance. In a lengthy speech, he appeared to side with Iran and against the United States.

"The country that possesses the greatest nuclear arsenal in the world, with what authority can they question the rights of other countries to their peaceful development? What right do other countries that possess nuclear weapons have to do with this either? What moral authority do they have to question the right of any people to develop nuclear energy for peaceful or even for military purposes?," said Ortega.

More leaders will address the General Assembly in the afternoon. The presidents of Afghanistan, Estonia, Indonesia, Iran, South Africa and Sri Lanka are among those scheduled to speak.

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