by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations headquarters complex and its nearby traffic-choked neighborhood returned to near-normal on Tuesday as the 112 heads of state and government as well as high-ranking ministers relinquished the podium at the end of the UN General Assembly's General Debate.
But the spotlight wasn't always on the podium as it veered to the margins, particularly last Friday when the UN Security Council unanimously approved sending a joint team with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons team into Syria to enumerate, locate and destroy such weapons and the machines that made them. The team arrived in Damascus Tuesday.
Another example was when U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned from the White House to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani heading to the airport in New York, marking the first time in decades for such a high-level contact between the two countries.
There were bilateral meetings galore among top leaders of member states as well as sessions between high-ranking representatives of member states and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon.
But, for many, it was at the faux marble podium in the no- frills temporary General Assembly Hall in the Temporary North Lawn Building at UN headquarters where the great and not-so great traipsed before the microphones to deliver their country's messages.
Plans call for the return next year to the much larger and grander General Assembly hall, marking completion of a 2-billion-U. S. dollar Capital Master Plan of renovation at UN Headquarters.
Outside roadblocks have been lifted; TV Satellite trucks have packed up and the VIP passageways inside have returned to just plain corridors.
Overseeing the debate this year was General Assembly President John Ashe, the ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, and the vice presidents who spared him from his center seat on the dais behind the podium.
Three countries who did not speak were Saudi Arabia and Djibouti, which gave no reason, and Kenya, which didn't need one, considering the bloody Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi just over a week ago.
At the outset on Sept. 24, Ashe set a theme and outlined a number of priority areas for member states to discuss in either high-level events or thematic debates.
At the end, he called the session "one in which member states gave voice to their distinct needs and diverse challenges, as well as individual and shared concerns."
His theme was "The Post 2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!"
This was to signal the world organization wasn't just going to let the time-bound Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire with no follow-up.
"Virtually every delegation that referred to this theme commended the choice and pledged full support and cooperation for its further elaboration," Ashe said in his concluding remarks. " This heralds a sense of promise about what is to come over the next year and I trust that we will all be able to work collectively and creatively during this session."
Many delegations expressed the need to begin work toward defining a universal development agenda, "inclusive of sustainable development goals, based on common but differentiated principles," he said.
Sustainable development also was a priority announced by the secretary-general earlier in the year.
During the debate, a number of countries said they wanted to emphasize culture, education, climate change, job creation, sustainable energy, social inclusion, equality for all and access to water, Ashe said, adding that many also called for sustainable agriculture and use of ocean resources, food security, health care, including maternal care, non-communicable diseases, and the fight against HIV-AIDS.
"Some delegations reminded us that democracy, human rights, peace and security must also be a part of sustainable development; some emphasized the role and empowerment of women, youth, indigenous communities and persons with disabilities," he said.
"There were reminders that while South-South cooperation has become an important part of development cooperation, it is a complement to North-South, not a replacement," Ashe said. " Partnerships are also needed among state and non-state actors. The means of implementation, the need for adequate resources and funding, innovation and technology transfer were further recurring themes."
There were reminders of the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the Small Island Developing States as "an important consideration for the Post 2015 development agenda," he said.
"Reforming the global economic governance architecture to reflect the weight of emerging and developing countries was also a concern," along with the usual call for reform of the United Nations itself, Ashe noted.
"Concern was expressed for the situations in Guinea-Bissau, Central Africa Republic, Sudan and the Sahel," the president said. "On Somalia, there were both words of encouragement and caution."
There was strong condemnation for terrorist attacks in Kenya, Pakistan and Iraq.
"Sadly, we can now add Nigeria to that list," Ashe said, adding "There also was praise for progress in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Member states underscored the need to protect women and children in conflict; end sexual violence in conflict and the enrollment of child soldiers; support transition processes following the Arab Spring; and address issues of cyber-security, with suggestions for the UN to play a greater role in this area," Ashe said.
"The need for disarmament was emphasized, with concerns about the use of weapons of mass destruction and risks of proliferation; calls were made for the creation of nuclear weapons free zones," he said. A solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was also sought.
Summing up, Ashe said, "The General Debate provides a useful measure of stock taking on the issues at the forefront of our lives within the mandate of this organization, and it is the only mechanism by which our 193 members can make their voices heard."