UN anniversary session had mixed bag of results
The United Nations General Assembly rolled toward its pre-Christmas adjournment today with a mixed record of accomplishments, good intentions, cautious hopes, and expected disappointments. Diplomatic assessments of the 40th anniversary session were generally upbeat. Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar and General Assembly President Jaime de Pinies emphasized that to a degree previously unachieved, governments concurred on the need for united action on some of the world's most critical issues.
Among them were the third world debt burden, human rights, the related problems of South African apartheid and independence for Namibia (Southwest Africa), drug abuse, and the necessity of increasing the UN system's efficiency.
One achievement most often cited as a breakthrough was the assembly's adoption of an antiterrorism resolution. Reflecting a general opinion, President de Pinies called it ``a landmark in the history of the United Nations.''
In its operative part, the resolution condemns ``as criminal all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism wherever and by whomever committed.''
The bulk of the assembly's agenda consisted of thorny issues -- the Middle East, disarmament, Cyprus, decolonization -- on which debate was largely a reprise of previous years. Progress, if any, on these issues was minimal.
The assembly's principal high-visibility success was the gathering of some 75 heads of state and more than 100 vice-presidents and foreign ministers for the 40th-anniversary salute, a super-summit unprecedented in world history. It peaked on United Nations Day, Oct. 24, with assembly speeches by President Reagan and representatives of the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China, and other nations.
But the 40th session was more than speeches, limousine motorcades, and black-tie dinners. Adversaries were able to meet at the top level to thrash out, if not to solve, nagging and sometimes dangerous disagreements. Allies and like-minded blocs used the occasion to map strategies and draft unified positions on issues of concern to them. Thus:
Although meeting outside the UN framework, President Reagan took advantage of the occasion to convene a roundtable of some of his main allies.
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, in their first-ever substantive meeting, explored ways of easing tension between the two countries, which have waged three wars since Pakistan was partitioned from India in 1947.
National leaders of the six members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held strategy sessions to deal with Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia.
Latin American leaders convened to discuss their crushing foreign debt problems and, in the process, stimulated assembly debate about the third world's financial crisis in general.
The biggest setback of the session stems from the US plan to reduce its contribution to UN financing.
The US is determined to reduce its share of contributions to the UN's regular budget from 25 percent to 20 percent. The action will take effect Oct. 1 unless the UN introduces weighted voting on budgetary matters and undertakes administrative and budgetary reforms.
Another great disappointment was the failure of the 10-day commemorative meeting to produce an agreed declaration. The expected document was blocked by failure of the US and its supporters to agree with the Arab group and its backers on language of a section on Palestinian rights. The Arab draft called for Palestinian ``self-determination'' -- a concept the US side refused to endorse.
There were, predictably, a few who agreed with one ambassador who scoffed at the commemorative session as ``the greatest show on earth since Barnum.''
The secretary-general himself reserved final opinion. With a tinge of irony, he observed: ``All the speeches were very beautiful.'' But that, he said, ``is not enough.''
``Let's move from words to deeds,'' he said. ``Let's see in which way all the distinguished speakers are prepared to give the United Nations the necessary support for moving ahead.''