Obama, Romney slated for dueling speeches on world stage

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left and U.S. President Barack Obama.
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The U.N. General Assembly annual debate is usually the time when the U.S. president and world leaders lay out their foreign policy agenda, to their own people and the international community.

And usually, one issue or leader dominates. Last year, it was Palestine's membership bid; in 2009, it was the late Muammar Qaddafi's rambling speech; and in year's past, the General Assembly has seen Fidel Castro lecture for four-and-a-half hours (the longest and greatest departure from the 15 minutes allocated to each leader), Venezuela's fiery Hugo Chavez' reference to the U.S. president as the devil (he is on the agenda to return), and Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe.

Several weighty international issues are at the front burner. The U.S. is under attack in the Arab world, Israel is losing patience with Iran's nuclear ambitions, and Syria is imploding in a civil war that is spilling into the region.

News organizations - at least in the U.S. -- are likely to be broadcasting in stereo this year, and not necessarily in harmony.

That's is because, on Sept. 25, the first day of General Assembly debate, as President Obama (the second speaker, historically, because of the U.S. role as host country) takes the podium, so will Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who will be speaking across town from U.N. headquarters in New York at the Clinton Global Initiative, at the invitation of former President Clinton.

Perhaps it is a scheduling glitch, or by intent, but the world stage will be shared this year by the two candidates for U.S. president, with their differing views of what was supposed to be a lesser issue in the U.S. campaign - foreign policy.

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To be fair, the Clinton Global Initiative has, in years past, had dueling presidential candidates, and it boasts its bipartisanship. But to schedule Romney's address at the same time (9 - 9:15 a.m.) Mr. Obama addresses the U.N. is to juxtapose the issue of their differing views of world affairs.

Back at the U.N., this year's General Assembly has more diffuse issues than the oft-times, one-themed debates, said a senior European diplomat. According to the president of the Security Council for the month of September, German Ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig, the priorities at the U.N. this year, posted on the Mission website, are: minister-level meetings on the Arab world, on children caught in armed conflict, and on supporting stability in Afghanistan; in addition to the continuing crisis in Syria, negotiations in Sudan and South Sudan, and several other African development issues.

"On September 26, a high-level meeting will put special emphasis on recent developments in the Arab world, especially on the League of Arab states, whose importance as a regional political actor has grown considerably over recent years," Germany's posting said.

In addition, countries frustrated by the stalemate in the Security Council on Syria, which has resulted from three vetoes by both Russia and China, will be able to meet in a "Friends of Syria" meeting to discuss how to try to contain the growing violence.

In a packed agenda, several high-level meetings will take place: on the Middle East (which will showcase the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby), on nuclear terrorism, Sudan and South Sudan, nutrition, the Sahel region, AIDs in Africa, women, and the 2015 development agenda. A "Rule of Law" high-level meeting is expected to garner some attention, focusing on accountability for crimes in war zones.

This year, there will be heads of state and government from approximately 123 nations, but not several of the leaders who garnered the world's attention in the past: no Fidel Castro, not the leaders of China and Russia.

But, the agenda has President Obama on Tuesday, Sept. 25, Iran's Mahmoud Ahadinejad and Egypt's Mohammed Morsi on Wednesday, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, and many of the European heads of state and government, including France's Francois Hollande and the U.K.'s David Cameron.

As one of the most reknowned Secretary Generals, Dag Hammarskjold said, "We should ... recognize the United Nations for what it is - an admittedly imperfect but indispensable instrument of nations."

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.