Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev heaped praise on peacekeepers, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman heaped scorn on them and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd proposed a new breed of peacekeeper Tuesday as the United Nations quickened the pace of what Hurd called its annual “diplomatic fair.”
The three-week “general debate” that opens the session of the General Assembly every year began Monday in the grand chamber, with its Fernand Leger murals, when Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stepped to the podium to speak, quickly followed by President Clinton.
Before the debate ends Oct. 14, speeches will have come from 24 heads of state and government, a crown prince and more than 100 foreign ministers. On Tuesday alone, the presidents of Uzbekistan, Niger, Zimbabwe, Croatia and Lithuania and the foreign ministers of Belgium, Russia, Britain, Israel, Sweden, Romania, Argentina, Denmark, Guinea, Poland, Sierre Leone, Honduras and Angola had their say.
Although the speeches are billed as a debate, there are no arguments. Each political leader comes forward to read his statement with little or no regard for what was said before or will be said afterward. The closest hint of an argument came when two demonstrators, believed to be Jewish, interrupted Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres with shouts against the Israeli-Palestinian peace pact. “Peres is a traitor,” they cried as guards hustled them out.
The presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers use their stayovers in New York to confer with one another, just as Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa did Monday.
But for most visitors, the dizzying succession of speeches provides the main fare of the diplomatic fair, and the highlights from Tuesday’s rhetoric offer a sampling of what a U.N. general debate is all about:
* Israeli Foreign Minister Peres castigated Syria for failing to respond to Israeli overtures toward a peace agreement. “We ask the Syrian leadership: If it has chosen peace, why does it refuse to meet openly?” said Peres. “If Syria is aiming at the Egyptian fruits of peace, it must follow the process that led to it.”
Peres painted a glowing picture of how Arabs and Jews could cooperate in the future to develop the Middle East. He described tourism as an example. Citing the wonders of the Middle East, including Jerusalem, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (in Iraq) and the beaches of Gaza, he said, “We have to open roads to those wonders and keep them safe and hospitable.”
* Tudjman denounced the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Croatia for failing to prevent Serbian aggression in the cease-fire areas. He insisted that his government could not “prevent Croatian towns from being shelled from areas under the protection of peacekeeping forces.”
Unless the United Nations strengthens the peacekeeping force so that it can deal with the Serbian troops more effectively, Tudjman said, his government will demand that the peacekeepers leave Croatia by the end of November. The present authorization for the peacekeeping force ends Thursday. But Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has asked the Security Council to extend it for another six months.
* Kozyrev said that “Russia has made the peacemaking, and the protection of human rights, particularly that of national minorities, the priority of its foreign policy.”
The Russian minister made it clear, however, that his government is concerned most of all with peacekeeping in the countries of the former Soviet Union. While recognizing that this is primarily a burden for Russia, Kozyrev called for organizations such as the United Nations to help ease that burden.
“We stand for much more active assistance to our peacemaking efforts, not in words but in deeds,” he said.
* Hurd said that the British and French have made a joint proposal that the United Nations create a corps of junior-level diplomats and soldiers who would be ready to go as observers to trouble spots to report on brewing conflicts.
Hurd told a news conference later that he was not contemplating high-level diplomats who would engage in grand diplomacy in Geneva.
“I’m talking about people on the ground, people in Jeeps and Land-Rovers,” he said. At present, most U.N. observers are senior military officers.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster contributed to this report.