As heads-of-state and top government leaders from most of the 193 member states gather for the United Nations General Assembly opening session this week, the UN hosted a series of side events Monday and Tuesday, including, most importantly, a High-Level Meeting on Libya and a High-Level Counter-Terrorism Symposium. Other side events included meetings on health, the environmental and sustainable development, and gender equality.
The most constructive side event to date was the High-Level Meeting on Libya, chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and attended by more than 50 heads of state or government. After the new flag of Libya was ceremoniously brought into the conference meeting room, the secretary general made his introductory remarks congratulating the Libyan people for “fighting courageously for your fundamental rights and freedoms” and pledging continued full UN support “in every way we can.”
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the provisional Libyan government, president of the National Transition Council (“NTC”), then addressed the gathering. He said how the raising of the new Libyan flag at the United Nations was a “happy moment” that represented “the will of the Libyan freedom fighters and the first martyrs, who, as they were dying, urged their friends and colleagues to continue and not to surrender.” Mr. Abdel-Jalil emphasized that the NTC was focused on bringing about favorable conditions for democracy, economic development, justice, security and reconciliation, for which the Libyan people would be looking to the UN for assistance. He later told reporters that he expected a new government to be announced within a week to ten days.
The unfurling of the new Libyan flag and the appearance of the head of Libya’s new transitional government marked a fitting capstone to the heartfelt plea last February by the defecting Libyan UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Shalgam, to the United Nations Security Council to “save Libya” from dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s murderous regime.
President Barack Obama led the heads of state and government leaders in congratulating the Libyan rebels for their victory and commending the international effort that made the victory possible. In an obvious attempt to shore up his foreign policy credentials while facing severe backlash over his failed economic policies at home, Obama unabashedly credited his own leadership in forging the international consensus behind multilateral intervention against Col. Qaddafi’s regime. Of course, the truth is that President Obama “led from behind,” as his own advisors put it. France, the United Kingdom and the Arab League were the principal drivers for international action, and Obama only decided grudgingly to join the effort when a potential massacre of 10,000 civilians in the city of Benghazi was imminent.
By contrast, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who deserves much of the credit for truly taking a leadership role, delivered a concise speech that did not seek to take credit for the outcome.
“We know our history and we remembered its lessons,” said President Sarkozy. He continued:
Today it is a free Libya that the whole world is addressing. It is up to the Libyans and no one else to decide what Libya’s future will be. We have said this as have our American and English friends, and all our coalition partners. We will stay to do the job as long as the Libyan revolutionaries need us.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also one of the government leaders participating in the High-level Meeting on Libya, where he announced that Canada stands ready to support the new Libyan government through the UN-coordinated effort moving forward.
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