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UN General Assembly Opens Debate With Full Agenda

Anti-Iran protesters at a rally outside UN headquarters in New York on September 22
U.S. President George W. Bush's farewell speech to the UN General Assembly is expected to address many of issues facing the world body, such as the real intentions behind Iran's nuclear program, Russia's stationing of troops in Georgian breakaway regions, and the vicious bombing of the American-owned Marriott hotel in Islamabad this week.

But the tumult on the world financial markets, which is continuing, is sure to intrude into the sober atmosphere of the General Assembly's debate. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern that the Bush administration's massive $700 billion plan to bail out the faltering U.S. financial system will focus resources on rescuing banks, rather than assisting developing countries.

Bush is bound to address the finance issue in his speech, in an effort to convince world leaders that his plan, if quickly implemented, will halt the slide into global chaos.

Given the circumstances, Ban's call for $72 billion to be allocated to reaching the UN's Millennium Development Goals to cut poverty in Africa will likely gain little attention.

Ahmadinejad Controversy

Expected to take the podium two hours after Bush is Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose presence in New York has caused a stir. His speech last year resulted in a U.S. delegation walkout, and led thousands to protest his country's nuclear activities.

A demonstration near the UN building on September 22 organized by Jewish groups drew about 2,000 people, who called for the Iranian leader to be refused entry to the UN headquarters.

"The purpose of this meeting is to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. It's as simple as that," one protester said. "If Iran were to get the nuclear weapons Iran would destroy Israel and then America would be next. There's [what they call] big Satan and little Satan. Israel is little Satan, America is big Satan and they would destroy them."

The United States will be pressing at the coming session for a new Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions on Iran. But Russia and China are cool to this idea, preferring the diplomatic path to get Tehran to drop the controversial parts of its nuclear program.

One issue the countries agree on, however, is Afghanistan. The Security Council has voted unanimously to keep international troops in Afghanistan for another year and called on countries to boost their force commitments to deal with growing instability.

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on September 22 expressed Moscow's support for the international troop presence in Afghanistan, saying that "Russia attaches great importance to the international effort to fight terrorism and to fight [the]Taliban in Afghanistan."

The outlook is different on Georgia. Bush will take the occasion to again denounce the presence of strengthened Russian forces in the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Bush will reiterate U.S. support for the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili, and urge withdrawal of Russian troops.

In his own speech, Saakashvili will undoubtedly do the same.

Another speaker listed to speak is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Although unpopular at home, Sarkozy has managed to establish himself as a player on the world stage, by forging a peace deal between Russia and Georgia and taking the initiative to end Syria's political isolation.

with agency reports