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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made headlines around the world during last year's General Assembly when he held up a cartoon graphic of a bomb supposedly illustrating Iran's uranium-enrichment capability and drew a thick red line at the point he said Israel would be forced to attack Iran. Despite the prime minister's rhetoric, Israel has continued to rely on US-led efforts to pressure Iran and on Obama's vow to take military action if that became necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Still, the Israeli leader has consistently pressured the US to take a tougher stand on Iran, and with the focus of the conversation moving toward the question of renewed diplomacy between Washington and Tehran, many UN watchers will be keeping a close eye on Netanyahu's response to Obama's outreach efforts and on an Oct. 1 speech by Netanyahu for signs of the message he's sending supporters in Washington. The fact that Iran will be represented at the UN session by the more moderate and engaging Rouhani rather than the bellicose Ahmadinejad poses a messaging challenge to the Israelis. Although the speech will be the Israeli leader's public message, he'll no doubt offer a more frank assessment in his White House meeting with Obama a day earlier.
The Palestinian leadership's bid for recognition of a Palestinian state -- to the chagrin of Israel and the annoyance of the Obama administration -- has been a major feature of the past two General Assembly sessions, but the issue appears likely to receive little attention this year. Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will address the assembly on Sept. 26, but there won't be any renewal of the statehood bid, which led to a major diplomatic showdown in New York in 2011. The bid failed that year after the matter was tabled by the Security Council.
In November 2012 the General Assembly passed a resolution that designated Palestine a "non-member observer state," an upgrade from the PLO's previous status as an "observer entity." While the PLO and its allies said that the move gave Palestine implicit recognition as a state at the UN, even without Security Council approval, the vote had no practical impact on the situation on the ground. Last month, amid widespread skepticism and continuing conflict over Israel's expansion of illegal settlements in occupied territory, Israel and the PLO resumed peace talks under the auspices of Kerry. But the content of the renewed talks is being kept secret at the insistence of the US. The only major conference on the issue planned for this year's General Assembly session is an annual donors' meeting sponsored by the Norwegian government. Kerry is scheduled to speak, but the meeting will be closed to the press.
The deadline for the ambitious Millennium Development Goals -- which range from halving the extreme poverty rate to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015 -- is looming. While progress has been made, with rates of HIV infection and maternal and infant mortality falling, attaining many of the goals is still far off. Monday sees a high-level meeting on them, during which diplomats can expect a status update on development around the world.
James Bays and Whitney Hurst contributed reporting from the United Nations