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Afghanistan, Myanmar Skip UN General Assembly

By Margaret Besheer September 27, 2021

Afghanistan will not address the U.N. General Assembly, in the wake of the Taliban takeover and potential competing claims of representation at the world body.

A U.N. spokesperson said they were informed by email on Saturday that they were withdrawing. Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai had originally been scheduled to speak on Monday, the final day of the annual debate that draws world leaders to New York.

Isaczai was appointed by the previous Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani, but still holds the country's U.N. accreditation.

On September 20, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a letter from the Taliban saying their interim foreign minister, Ameer Khan Muttaqi, wanted to participate in the annual U.N. gathering. It also said Isaczai was "ousted" as Afghanistan's ambassador, and the Taliban were nominating Mohammad Suhail Shaheen to replace him.

The secretary-general's office forwarded this to the General Assembly committee that handles the accreditation of ambassadors. The credentials committee typically does not meet until October or November, so no resolution of the issue is imminent.

Myanmar has also informed the U.N. that it will not address the annual gathering.

In February, the military seized power in a coup and detained most of the national unity government. The junta has sought to replace Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun with one of its own but will also have to go to the credentials committee with its request. Myanmar was initially scheduled to speak on Monday, but withdrew several days ago, U.N. officials said.

New tone

Meanwhile, Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, made his U.N. debut. While he argued the hardline position on why Iran is a threat to Israel's security, his calm but urgent tone drew a sharp contrast to his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Iranian threat dominated most of the former prime minister's U.N. speeches, which were accompanied by props and a cheering section.

Bennett did not touch on Iran for a full 13 minutes. As for the Palestinians, he never mentioned them. He spoke first of Israel's pioneering efforts vaccinating its population against COVID-19. Israeli data has helped other governments in developing their own vaccination strategies.

"We pioneered the booster shot," Bennett said of the third jab of certain vaccines that scientists say can offer better protection from the virus' variants.

"Two months in, I can report that it works: with a third dose, you're seven times more protected than with two doses, and 40 times more protected than without any

vaccine," he said. "As a result, Israel is on course to escape the fourth wave without a lockdown, without further harm to our economy."

Iranian threat

On regional foe Iran, Bennett warned Tehran has made "swarms" of killer drones operational.

"They plan to blanket the skies of the Middle East with this lethal force," Bennett said. He said Tehran has already used the drones — called the Shahed 136 — to attack Saudi Arabia, U.S. targets in Iraq and civilian ships at sea.

"Iran plans to arm its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with hundreds and then thousands of these deadly drones," he said.

On the nuclear issue, he said Iran is violating International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguard agreements, including enriching uranium to one step below nuclear weapons-grade.

"Iran's nuclear program has hit a watershed moment — and so has our tolerance," the Israeli prime minister warned. "Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning."

He repeated Israel's long-standing pledge not to let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.

The United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel a year ago in the Abraham Accords, also expressed concern about Iran's regional activities.

"We cannot ignore Iran's development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as its interference in the region," said Khalifa al Matar, the country's minister of state. "Therefore, any future agreement with Iran must address the shortcomings of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — JCPOA — and must involve the countries of the region."

The JCPOA is the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted certain sanctions on Iran in exchange for its limiting its nuclear activities. The deal has been on life support since the Trump administration withdrew the United States from it in 2018. The Iranians stopped complying with their commitments a year later. Foreign ministers involved in the deal said last week that they hope talks to bring both parties back to compliance under the nuclear deal will resume soon in Vienna.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Yemen's foreign minister, which is mired in a war with Houthi rebels, on Monday expressed his frustration with what he said is Tehran's military and logistic support for the rebels.

"This proves that Iran has been and continues to be part of the problem in Yemen, rather than the solution," Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100 presidents and prime ministers traveled to New York for the annual gathering. The U.N. and New York City had numerous health protocols in place, but at least one delegation reported an outbreak.

At last count, Brazilian media report at least four members of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation, including his son, Eduardo, who is a legislator, and the health minister, had tested positive for COVID-19 while in New York.

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