|Participants attend the opening of the 66th session of the General Assembly (GA) at the UN Headquarters in New York, Sept. 13, 2011. (Xinhua/Shen Hong)
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UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- The UN General Assembly opened on Tuesday its 66th session at the UN Headquarters in New York, with veteran Qatari diplomat Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser serving at the helm.
Al-Nasser, former permanent representative of Qatar to the United Nations who was elected General Assembly president in June, said in his opening speech that the 66th session of the General Assembly is an opportunity for the international community to " define our place in this decisive moment in history," and to " prove that we have the courage, wisdom and tenacity to seek creative and visionary solutions."
Stressing that he is "deeply committed" to working with each member state and to build bridges for a united global partnership, Al-Nasser said "strong collaboration and consensus-building will be essential for successfully moving forward the Assembly's agenda this session."
Al Nasser said he suggested the theme "The role of mediation in the settlement of disputes" for the General Debate slated from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 this year when world leaders gather to discuss key global issues.
"This theme has a broad and multi-faceted nature. I expect member states to touch upon different aspects of this matter through their own experience and perspective," Al-Nasser said. The UN is currently at a "critical juncture in the history of nations. "
Al-Nasser defined in his opening remarks four main areas of focus for the session. The first was the need to settle disputes peacefully, a necessity he said has become "more relevant and urgent than ever."
The second topic of focus will be UN reform and revitalization to meet "current global challenges."
"Our organization is built on strong foundations," Al-Nasser said. "But our institution was designed in a post-World War Two era; today our world is much more interdependent, complex and fast paced."
According to Al-Nasser, getting a quick response from the General Assembly to international issues as they occur will be essential. He also stressed the need to work on Security Council reform, which has long been a cause taken up by many member states at the UN.
"The third priority area this session is improving disaster prevention and response," said Al-Nasser, pointing to what he called an "unprecedented surge" of disasters that have occurred in recent years.
He cited global warming and the shifting of tectonic plates. " To address these critical issues, we must enhance cooperation among various actors," he said.
"We must invest in preparedness and take forward our efforts to reduce risk and vulnerability to natural hazards. One way of achieving this goal will be to focus more on building the capacities of vulnerable regions to make them more capable and self-reliant, not acting only in the aftermath of disasters."
Al-Nasser said that the fourth focus for the session will be " sustainable development and global prosperity," calling the coming year "vital for pushing forward the sustainable development agenda. "
During the 66th session, representatives from all over the world will travel to Rio de Janiero for Rio +20 meeting, where sustainable development will be evaluated, and progress will be mapped for going forward. The meeting will run from June 4-6, 2012.
"I believe that all 193 members want Rio +20 to be forward looking, to build on past experiences and to reaffirm the balance between the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development, with the human being at the center of our efforts," said Al-Nasser.
He also urged world leaders to take "strong and urgent action for the protection of the global climate for present and future generations" at the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17) to be held from Nov. 28- Dec. 9.
The new president of the UN's most representative body said that he would do his utmost to find consensus and create a real impact.
"The sands are shifting," he said in closing. "We have before us a unique opportunity to shape change and ensure that our next chapter will be safer for the most vulnerable, more prosperous for those in need, and kinder to Planet Earth. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve you as president and look forward to our close and successful partnership, working together for the sake of humanity," Al-Nasser said.
Tuesday's meeting also took a nostalgic look back to Dag Hammarskjold, the second UN secretary-general, who died in a plane crash fifty years ago while trying to bring peace to the nascent country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In a separate speech, Al-Nasser praised Hammarskjold as a pioneer of preventive diplomacy, the effort to resolve crises before they become deadly and intractable. "Hammarskjold was formative in shaping the UN's methods of operation," he said.
Praising his predecessor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the 193 Member States that "nothing could be more fitting at this tumultuous time than to reflect on the life and death of Dag Hammarskjold... we are inspired by the power of his conviction and we pledge to carry on the work of the United Nations that he died defending."