President Obama's Big UN Adventure

President Obama's upcoming visit to the 64th UN General Assembly, which opened yesterday, will be nothing if not entertaining. Substantively, Obama should be delighted. A confluence of recent events has brought to fruition his campaign promises to launch diplomacy with our adversaries: Negotiations without preconditions are blooming everywhere.

Whether these negotiations will benefit the United States is, of course, a different question. Nonetheless, Obama's UN appearances will showcase that he now unambiguously "owns" (as he likes to say) our foreign policy.

The President's speech to the General Assembly a week from today is his first major UN public event, and we can predict he will receive a rapturous reception. This was not true for President George W. Bush, who described his annual UN remarks as a "visit to the wax museum" because of the audience's unenthusiastic response.

Obama's UN appearances will showcase that he now unambiguously "owns" (as he likes to say) our foreign policy.

And why should we not expect a visible demonstration of Obamamania at the UN? He is giving them pretty much what they ask for, as did President Bill Clinton.

As Obama speaks, the General Assembly will be chaired by former Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Abdessalam Triki, who was elected president of that body yesterday. Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy himself addresses the General Assembly right after Obama, and they will certainly have a chance to speak together in the cozy waiting area just behind the General Assembly podium. This would be an excellent opportunity to discuss the health of recently released mass murderer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people, including 189 Americans, and now free in Tripoli, Libya.

Even if their paths don't cross then, Khadafy will be only a few seats away from Obama at the Security Council table on Sept. 24, when the President chairs a meeting on nonproliferation and disarmament. Khadafy can easily walk over to Obama and present him, a la Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, with a copy of the "Green Book," Khadafy's 1975 best seller (in Libya at least). They will certainly have a chance at the Security Council to muse about eliminating the U.S. and Israeli nuclear stockpiles, always popular subjects at the UN.

There is no word yet whether Khadafy is invited to our President's traditional reception for heads of state and government. But certainly, now that the U.S. has accepted Iran's offer for open-ended diplomacy with the Security Council's five permanent members (and also Germany), there is no reason why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be on the guestlist.

Perhaps he and Obama can have a photo together as Ahmadinejad goes through the receiving line and begin those direct, unconditional talks that Obama promised during the 2008 campaign. Ahmadinejad might well offer a few thoughts on his overwhelming presidential reelection victory on June 12, and his techniques for handling partisan opposition. Even if Ahmadinejad's invitation gets lost in the mail, there are still photo opportunities in abundance, perhaps at the UN secretary general's annual luncheon for visiting heads of state.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is unlikely to attend the opening festivities, because, due to unfortunate "technicalities," his country is still at war with the UN, and has been since it invaded South Korea in 1950. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has enthusiastically embraced negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program, so perhaps Kim can be persuaded to come next year for a proper presidential photo.

With so many opportunities for a handshake and a big hug with authoritarian leaders, so many compromises and concessions to make and so much adulation to receive, it will be a busy time for the President.

One interesting question, especially for New Yorkers: Will Secretary of State Clinton be with Obama at all the key meetings, public and private, or will she be hard at work at her desk in Washington?

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.

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John R.
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  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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