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The Latest: Multilateralism main theme at General Assembly

September 30, 2018
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Foreign Minister for Eritrea, Osman Mohammed Saleh, addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Latest on the U.N. General Assembly (all times local):

8:15 p.m.

The subjects have been varied, but what’s been the main theme at the U.N. General Assembly this year? It’s multilateralism - whether to work closely together or go it alone as nations. In speech after speech pretty much everyone has been talking about it.

Behind that, though, is an important question: What should cooperation look like in a 21st-century world?

Speaker after speaker has talked about how they must work together to fight global warming, improve the lot of refugees, eliminate gender bias, stimulate the economy.

But a smaller contingent led by the United States and President Donald Trump says that too much multilateralism gets in the way of sovereignty and should be avoided.

The notion of where a nation’s sovereignty ends and its allegiance to a global group of nations that doesn’t govern, but that makes a lot of rules, begins is the basic question delegates are asking. For the most part, particularly with smaller nations, the attitude is that cooperation and following international rules make things better for everyone.

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7:55 p.m.

Eritrea’s foreign minister is touting his country’s historic peace agreement with Ethiopia and calling for U.N. sanctions to be lifted immediately, calling them “unwarranted” and “a miscarriage of justice.”

Osman Saleh Mohammed told the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting on Saturday that “with positive winds of peace flowing in our region” some Security Council members are calling for sanctions to be lifted while others are looking for pretexts “to move the goalpost” and maintain the illegal sanctions.

The Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea and sanctions on its political and military leaders in December 2009 after U.N. experts said the Horn of Africa nation was supporting al-Shabab extremists in Somalia and had failed to withdraw its forces following clashes with Djibouti in June 2008.

Mohammed said the previous U.S. administrations were mainly responsible for the “fabricated charges” which created serious economic damage and hurt the country’s reputation and prospects for investment.

As a result, Mohammed said Eritrea is not only calling for the immediate rescinding of sanctions but “amends for the damages incurred and opportunities forfeited.”

Eritrea recently restored diplomatic relations with Somalia and Djibouti.

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7:40 p.m.

Somalia’s foreign minister is telling the U.N. General Assembly that his young government has made significant strides in fighting violent al-Shabab militants, and called on the world body to lift its long-standing arms embargo.

Ahmed Awad Isse says young people are no longer joining al-Shabab as they used to because “that ideology is no longer popular.”

In his address on Saturday, Isse said the Somali government has been engaging with religious leaders, young people, the elderly and women to “turn the tide against the twisted ideology of hate and religious intolerance.”

Isse also notes that many, including some of the militant group’s senior commanders, have taken the government’s amnesty offer and surrendered peacefully.

He said lifting the arms embargo would level the field in Somalia’s battle with extremist groups. He noted that “stronger fighting capacity would enable us to have the upper hand.”

Al-Shabab is trying to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, and is the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa.

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7 p.m.

A year after Dominica’s prime minister made an impassioned plea at the U.N. for help for his and other island nations battered by hurricanes, Foreign Minister Francine Baron says the experience and response made her country “stronger and more motivated.”

Baron spoke Saturday at the General Assembly, where Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged world leaders last year to “let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably.” His country had been ravaged weeks earlier by powerful Hurricane Maria.

In the year since, Dominica has been rebuilding while also forming a billion-dollar “climate resilience” plan.

Baron noted that the cost of such improvements is beyond what small countries like Dominica can handle without help.

She thanked the international community and individual people for their assistance so far.

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6 p.m.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has postponed her U.N. General Assembly speech as trade talks between the U.S. and Canada intensify.

Freeland had been scheduled to speak Saturday but exchanged the slot with another country. Freeland may or may not give the speech on Monday.

Canada is the United States’ No. 2 trading partner. It was left out when the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement last month to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The U.S. and Canada are under pressure to reach a deal by Sunday, when the U.S. must make public the full text of the agreement with Mexico.

The trade talks have been deadlocked over issues such as Canada’s high dairy tariffs.

— By Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto.

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4:40 p.m.

The deadly Indonesian tsunami is on the minds of several other countries’ envoys as they address the U.N. General Assembly.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Belize’s foreign minister, Wilfred Elrington, and Sao Tome’s foreign minister, Urbino Botelho, were among those expressing sympathy and condolences to Indonesians Saturday at the assembly. Swaraj promised that “India will cooperate in helping during this tragic time.”

A powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami Friday evening that unleashed waves as high as 6 meters (20 feet), killing hundreds on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. At least 384 people were killed in the city of Palu, and the number was expected to rise as rescuers reached surrounding coastal areas.

Indonesian Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla spoke at the General Assembly on Thursday.

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3:00 p.m.

Pakistan’s top diplomat is blaming India for a recent breakdown in their relations as he addresses a U.N. gathering of world leaders. He says Pakistan “prefers politics over peace.”

Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s comments came a few hours after India accused his country of harboring terrorists.

Qureshi and his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, were supposed to meet at the U.N. this week. But the day after the meeting was announced, India called it off after an Indian border guard was killed in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Qureshi said India’s current administration has called off dialogue between the two countries three times already, “each time on flimsy grounds.” India earlier rejected the notion it was sabotaging peace talks,

The two South Asian nations and nuclear powers are uneasy neighbors. They have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over the disputed region of Kashmir.

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2:50 p.m.

Austria’s foreign minister raised a range of world issues in her U.N. General Assembly speech — in four of the world’s languages.

Karin Kneissl started her remarks Saturday in Arabic, saying that humanity has a voice in the General Assembly hall and needs to use it “to express the voice of those outside this hall” who dwell amid wars and conflict.

Kneissl later switched to French, Spanish and English, thanking interpreters for their “patience and indulgence.”

Along the way, she quoted a Latin phrase and a Hebrew one.

In the various languages, she touched on issues including global warming, gender equality, the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and how to move from a “military situation to a diplomatic transition” in wartorn Syria.

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11:40 a.m.

India’s foreign minister is using her address on the world stage to accuse neighboring Pakistan of harboring terrorists.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj also rejected the notion that India is sabotaging peace talks with Pakistan, calling it “a complete lie.”

She accused Pakistan of “verbal duplicity,” noting that Osama bin Laden was found living there, and said the mastermind of the 2008 attack in Mumbai “still roams the streets of Pakistan with impunity.”

Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart were supposed to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week, but India called it off only one day after it was announced, following the killing of an Indian border guard in the disputed region of Kashmir.

The announcement of the planned meeting had been considered an encouraging sign for restarting stalled talks between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors.

Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, divided between the two countries but sought by each in its entirety.

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11:20 a.m.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho says his nation will never disarm its nuclear weapons first if it can’t trust Washington.

Ri was speaking Saturday at the United Nations General Assembly. He called on the United States to follow through on promises made during a summit in Singapore between the rivals’ leaders.

His comments come as US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seems to be on the verge of restarting deadlocked nuclear diplomacy more than three months after the Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Ri says it’s a “pipe dream” that continued sanctions and U.S. objection to a declaration ending the Korean War will ever bring the North to its knees.

Washington is wary of agreeing to the declaration without Pyongyang first making significant disarmament moves.

Both Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump want a second summit. But there is widespread skepticism that Pyongyang is serious about renouncing an arsenal that the country likely sees as the only way to guarantee its safety.

Pompeo is planning to visit Pyongyang next month to prepare for a second Kim-Trump summit.

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11:00 a.m.

Syria’s foreign minister is demanding the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria who are there in the country “illegally.”

Walid al-Moallem cites U.S., French and Turkish troops who are in Syria without invitation from the Syrian government.

He says the Syrian government considers them “occupation forces and will be dealt with accordingly.”

The United States has around 2,000 troops in northern Syria, working with local forces against Islamic State militants in the country.

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10:55 a.m.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem says a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution will not accept outside dictates. 

He says anything seen as intervention in Syria’s internal affairs is rejected. 

He spoke on Saturday, a few days after the United States and six other nations called for the United Nations to convene a committee to begin drafting a new constitution for Syria and promote a political transition in the war-ravaged country.

“Any conditions or pre-conclusions on the work of the committee will not be accepted,” Muallem says. 

The U.N.-led effort to bring Syria’s warring factions together to draft a new constitution under which elections would be held has been stalled for years.

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10:40 a.m.

Syria’s foreign minister is telling world leaders that his country’s “battle against terrorism is almost over.”

Walid al-Moallem also vowed Saturday at the U.N. General Assembly that the Syrian government will free the country from all “illegitimate” foreign troops. And he called on all refugees to return home, saying that is a priority for Damascus.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have retaken most of the territory rebels seized during the war that has killed over 400,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

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10:30 a.m.

The deadly Indonesian tsunami is on the minds of some world leaders as they address the U.N. General Assembly less than a day later.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj expressed condolences to Indonesia during her speech Saturday. She promised that “India will cooperate in helping during this tragic time.”

The tsunami swept away buildings and killed at least several hundred people on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 384 people were killed in the hard-hit city of Palu alone.

The nearby city of Donggala and the town of Mamuju were also ravaged by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami. But aid had not reached those communities, due to damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications.

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9:00 a.m.

Two of the planet’s most troubled hot spots are sending envoys to have their say before the world.

North Korea and Syria are places of international concern that spill trouble beyond national borders, and are to appear before the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday, at a time when both countries could be on the cusp of significant developments.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are trying to regain momentum more than three months after the Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. They are pushing for a second meeting in their quest to get Pyongyang to renounce its nuclear ambitions.

Syria could be on the verge of emerging from seven years of bloody conflict that included the use of chemical weapons.

Syria’s foreign minister will take the podium with his government firmly in control of most of the territory the opposition held for many of the seven years of the conflict.

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