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Obama at the UN

By Anne Bayefsky

President Obama’s UN debut is fast approaching. But as he looks forward to his makeover as global conciliator and potentate, all the signs point to a train wreck that has the potential of making health-care reform look easy...

Two problems are putting a wrench in his plans: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libyan president Col. Moammar Qaddafi. Both are coming to the UN’s New York headquarters in less than two weeks with to-do lists that don’t include improving Obama’s poll numbers.

Yesterday, Ahmadinejad called the president’s bluff. In mid-summer Obama decided that when the UN met in September, he would become the first American president to preside over a session of the Security Council (the council’s presidency rotates among its members, and this month is the United States’ turn). Before Obama’s move, the council’s agenda items for September had included “nuclear non-proliferation — Iran” and “nuclear non-proliferation — North Korea.” But upon inviting heads of state and government to join him, Obama chose a different agenda for his get-together, described by Amb. Susan Rice as “focused on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly, and not on any specific countries.” The Iranian president saw his opportunity, and yesterday he announced that Iran is ready for talks about “worldwide nuclear non-proliferation” and “global nuclear disarmament.”

Obama undoubtedly added “disarmament” to his council moment to impress a non-American audience. He didn’t care that in UN circles it would be used to change the subject from preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons to disarming Israel and the United States. Fine and dandy with Ahmadinejad.

Furthermore, on Monday the Iranian president said he has no intention of halting uranium enrichment or negotiating over his country’s nuclear “rights.” With Obama running away from naming specific troublesome countries — at a summit of world leaders, at the Security Council, in the middle of New York City — why shouldn’t Ahmadinejad treat Americans as airheads who prefer photo ops too: “Nuclear proliferation — who, me?”

(Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and executive director of Human Rights Voices)