UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Democratic uprisings across the Arab world and the Palestinians' bid for UN membership sparked excitement and hope at last year's meeting of world leaders. But with war raging in Syria, the Palestinian application sidelined, and deadly protests generated by an anti-Islamic video, the mood as this year's UN gathering begins is one of disappointment and frustration.
More than 120 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs meeting this week under heavy security at the UN General Assembly and in sideline events will also be preoccupied by rising tension over Iran's nuclear programme and the possibility of an Israeli strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities, al-Qaida's inroads in the Sahel region of west Africa, especially in Mali, and the first decline in years in international aid to help developing countries combat poverty.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon predicted that the ministerial session, which starts Tuesday, will be among the busiest ever, reflecting "the tumultuous time in which we live — a time of turmoil and transition." It is also taking place "against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance," he said.
Ahead of the opening ministerial session, which President Barack Obama will address, the UN chief has invited leaders to the first high-level meeting on the rule of law today, hoping they "will send a strong signal to the world's people that they are serious about establishing well-functioning institutions and delivering justice."
Diplomats aren't expecting any breakthroughs on the deadlock over Syria, which Ban said "will be foremost in our minds," despite a number of sideline meetings starting Monday when the new UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi briefs the UN Security Council behind closed doors on his recent talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other leaders in the region.