United Nations, N.Y.
The United Nations 43rd General Assembly opens today in a glow of subdued political and financial euphoria. Tentative, but encouraging, peace initiatives coupled with the United States decision to pay up on its multimillion-dollar arrears have helped pulled the organization out of a year-long period of despondency.
This week's business will be largely ceremonial and organizational. Outgoing president Peter Florin of East Germany will be in the chair when the new session begins this afternoon. Then begins the election of the 43rd session's president, vice presidents, and chairmen of its seven main committees.
Under the rule of geographical rotation, it is the Latin American/Caribbean region's turn at the presidential chair. But in a bloc split, the Caribbean group is challenging the numerically superior Latin Americans. The Latin candidate is Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo. His rival is Dame Nita Barrow, the UN permanent representative of Barbados.
If elected, Dame Nita would be the first Assembly president from an anglo-Caribbean country. Also, she would be only the third woman to hold the post.
Despite Washington's $15.2 million token payment last week on its UN debt of more than $500 million, budget-cutting measures instituted last year will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, said a spokesman for Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar.
The US's first installment, along with $173 million expected before year's end, will keep the UN afloat until at least Jan. 1, the customary date for members to settle accounts.
The US is the largest debtor, but not the only one. And, the Secretary-General warns, unless all members pay up, the UN will be unable to afford new, or even existing, peacekeeping operations in 1989.
Signs of ``peace'' that have sprung up in Afghanistan, Western Sahara, Cambodia, the twin issues of Angola and Namibia, and other hot-spot holdovers on the agenda of more than 150 items will dictate new approaches to old conflicts. Resolution sponsors are busy revamping texts to take account of developments since the 1987 assembly session. In nearly all cases, the drafts will be softened to avoid alienating either side.
For example, the 1987 Afghanistan resolution's demand for ``the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops'' has been overtaken by April's Geneva accords and the Soviet pullout, which appears to be on schedule.
With the Gulf truce holding, efforts have turned to persuading Iran and especially Iraq, which has become increasingly intransigent, to get on with other parts of the UN Security Council's 1987 resolution.
Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Soviet mission says it has no indication that Mikhail Gorbachev will attend the session for a ceremonial farewell summit meeting with outgoing President Reagan. The Soviet delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
Nevertheless, diplomats say, there will be high-level bilateral contacts both in and outside the UN complex to smooth over disagreements of varying intensity. The 43rd Assembly's agenda is essentially a carbon copy of previous years - in the case of the Middle East, disarmament, and South Africa's racial segregation, dating back almost to the founding of the UN.
This year, however, there are requests for the inclusion of new and controversial items.
One, is a request to recognize the 40th anniversary of the establishment of South Korea's government. North Korea immediately protested that the item was a covert attempt to legitimize a ``puppet'' state and perpetuate division of the two Koreas.
The other new item, requested by Swaziland as chairman of the UN's African group, is aimed at restricting developed nations from dumping nuclear and industrial waste in Africa. The item was initiated by Nigeria, a victim of the practice.
The Assembly's opening week overlaps a two-week conference called to assess Africa's deteriorating economic and social situation - an issue that is likely to carry over into General Assembly debate.