Leaders from around the world gathered last week in New York for the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year's agenda included high-level meetings to address the situation in Libya, advance nuclear safety, and promote the prevention of non-communicable diseases.
During UNGA, President Barack Obama held a series of meetings with world leaders and spoke before the General Assembly. In his remarks, President Obama said, “We come from different cultures, and carry with us different histories. But let us never forget that even as we gather here as heads of different governments, we represent citizens who share the same basic aspirations -- to live with dignity and freedom; to get an education and pursue opportunity; to love our families, and love and worship our God; to live in the kind of peace that makes life worth living.”
The President continued, “…When the cornerstone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, 'The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man's aspirations.' The moral nature of man's aspirations. As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that's a lesson that we must never forget."
President Obama joined President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil to launch the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative aimed at securing commitments from governments to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to make government more open, effective, and accountable.
During UNGA, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also participated in a number of events, including the launch of the Global Counterterrorism Forum -- a new multilateral counterterrorism body with 30 founding members that aims to increase the number of countries capable of dealing with terrorist threats within their borders and regions.
Secretary Clinton spoke at a High-Level Meeting on Somalia, during which she announced additional U.S. humanitarian assistance for those affected by the crisis in the Horn of Africa. Earlier in the week, Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced the launch of the FWD Campaign, which allows one to text "GIVE" to 777444 to donate $10 to famine relief. The $10 text donation will go to a consortium of eight U.S.-based humanitarian aid organizations working to provide life-saving aid across the region.
Secretary Clinton also participated in a High-Level Meeting on Nutrition, where she spotlighted country-led efforts to promote nutrition. During the meeting, Secretary Clinton said, "Now, the importance of this issue is obviously on our minds because of the emergency taking place in the Horn of Africa. This is not just a food emergency; it is also a nutrition emergency, especially for the large numbers of young children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable. Those who manage to survive the famines and the food shortages may still suffer lifelong damage from the under-nutrition they are living with today."
The devastating impact of acute hunger and starvation is most evident in the Horn of Africa today, but nearly one billion people around the world suffer from chronic hunger. The United Nations estimates that global food production must increase by 70 percent by the year 2050 in order to meet growing demand. During UNGA, Secretary Clinton spotlighted the critical role women farmers can play in improving global food security. The Secretary said, "If all farmers, men and women, had access to the same resources, we could increase agricultural output by 20 to 30 percent. That would feed an additional 150 million people every year."
During an event convened by UN Women in New York, Secretary Clinton highlighted the need to advance women's political participation and promote gender equality. Secretary Clinton described this work as one of the "one of the great pieces of unfinished business in the 21st Century." Fewer than 30 countries have reached the UN's target of 30 percent of women in national parliaments.
Investing in women, including the promotion of maternal health, is a key component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On the margins of UNGA, USAID Administrator Shah spotlighted MDG successes, including efforts to advance the health of women and newborns. Special Representative Kris Balderston drew attention to another important health issue: toxic smoke from unsafe and inefficient cookstoves that kills nearly 2 million people -- mostly women and children -- around the world annually. One year ago, Secretary Clinton launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to address this issue.
While in New York for UNGA, Secretary Clinton held a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings. The Secretary participated in a Haiti ministerial meeting, during which she underscored U.S. commitment to the people of Haiti, and met with leaders from the Pacific Islands.
The Secretary also participated in a meeting of the Middle East Quartet. Afterwards, she said, "The United States is very pleased that the Quartet was able to issue a statement today with a concrete and detailed proposal to begin negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians without delay or preconditions. The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties. Therefore, we urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talks, and the United States pledges our support as the parties themselves take the important next steps for a two-state solution, which is what all of us are hoping to achieve."
Secretary Clinton joined Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to co-chair a ministerial-level meeting on the "New Silk Road," an international economic and transit network that links Central and South Asia and promotes a better future for Afghanistan. Meanwhile, U.S. experts instructed Afghan carpet weavers on techniques for enhancing their sales prospects, and Ambassador Melanne Verveer addressed the vital role Afghan women play in promoting peace, stability, and economic progress.
In other news, President Obama and Secretary Clinton welcomed the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from Iran. Secretary Clinton said, "I am grateful for the efforts of all those who have worked for their release, in particular the Swiss Protecting Power in Tehran, the Omani government, the Iraqi government, and the many other world leaders who have raised their voices in support, as well as those inside Iran who pushed for justice."
As the week of high-level meetings at the United Nations came to a close, Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer explained why U.S. engagement at the United Nations is a smart investment and summarized the work U.S. diplomats conduct at the UN. She said, "We are trying to leverage emerging networks, forge new alliances, revitalize existing coalitions and…confront the great challenges of our day -- everything from national security to environmental security, economic health to famine relief."
While Assistant Secretary Brimmer's description certainly applies to the important work occurring at the United Nations, it also describes the efforts of American diplomats around the world, as they support efforts to reduce youth violence, seek new ways to empower women and girls, engage future leaders in Colombia, or re-open the U.S. Embassy in Libya.
On a final note, DipNote turns four today. This occasion represents an opportunity to thank our readers and contributors. I am grateful to the more than 900 State Department and USAID colleagues who have shared their observations in more than 3,600 blog entries. And, I deeply appreciate the blog's dedicated and informed community of readers, who join together in thoughtful discussion even when separated by geography, language, culture, and religion. On behalf of the entire DipNote team, thank you, and we look forward to another year!