by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- Iran appears to have surged to the fore on Monday as the leading topic of the annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Among the list of concerns, the Syria crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, climate change and cyber-spying rank high.
Up until the eve of the debate which will open Tuesday, it was nearly everyone's belief that the 2.5-year-old civil war in Syria which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced about 6 million people would be on top.
But Iran's diplomatic "charm offensive" to the United Nations has outweighed the issue of Syria.
Recent words of positive exchanges between Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama paint an effort of at least moderation in Iran's foreign policy.
Rouhani's speech to the assembly is scheduled only hours after Obama's welcoming statement, raising the possibility of a meeting between the two.
In addition, Iran's new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a former well-respected ambassador to the United Nations, lost no time Monday in making the diplomatic rounds, meeting with the European Union (EU) High Representative of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, and British Foreign Secretary William Haig.
Zarif has also planned to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for talks this week. He will also meet ministers from the other major countries involved in talks over Iran's nuclear program.
The meeting will be of great significance in restarting the negotiations over the issue.
The five permanent (P5) members of the UN Security Council and Germany have been trying to get Iran back to the negotiating table over Tehran's nuclear program, for which Iran has been suffering under Security Council sanctions.
The "P5 +1" has long been concerned that Iran's production of fissile material is not just for peaceful purposes but for a nuclear weapon.
Tehran has steadfastly denied the concern, but only allowed limited inspections by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Still, the Syria crisis ranks very high on the list of concerns. But diplomatic talks are in a sort of limbo since negotiations between Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are not scheduled to resume until later this week.
Washington wants a strong resolution to ensure Syria, after its joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), carries out its obligations to open its chemical weapons stockpile to the international community for inspection and destruction.
Damascus denies using chemical weapons. Moscow supports that view saying it has proof the opposition used the weapons while Washington says it has proof the Syrian government used them.
A UN investigation confirms the chemical weapons were used in Damascus on Aug. 21 but does not conclude who used them.
A new concern this year is cyber-spying which was delivered by several states.
Another new wrinkle this year is whether the United States, as the host country to the international territory set aside in New York for the UN headquarters, will grant a visa to scheduled speaker President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his handling of the Darfur conflict.
What crinkles is whether the concept of diplomatic immunity would apply.
The U.S. State Department said it has received the request, but it said nothing on whether to accept it.