Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 September 2020

UN General Assembly

The most memorable moments of the UN General Assembly

We look back on some of the stand out speeches of past General Debates

Muammar Qaddafi speaks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2009. EPA
Muammar Qaddafi speaks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2009. EPA

The United Nations General Assembly has witnessed some of the most memorable moments of international relations in history.

A forum where the floor, and the ears of the world’s nation states, are truly yours until you agree to yield has tempted some leaders to seize the opportunity to make an impact.

From Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forcing western delegates to walk out two years in a row, to Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, addressing the UN from the podium for the first time, many moments proved pivotal for delegations from the Middle East and around the world.

Fidel Castro, 1960

Still the longest speech ever recorded at the UN General Assembly, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro spoke for 269 minutes. Firmly in the grip of the Soviets in the early Cold War, Castro used his speech to criticise American imperialism, and insult President John F Kennedy.

"Were Kennedy not a millionaire, illiterate and ignorant, then he would obviously understand that you cannot revolt against the peasants,” Castro said. Unafraid of a peculiarity, Castro also kept live chickens in his hotel room that year.

Yasser Arafat, 1974

In 1974 Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, addressed the UN for the first time calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state that would include Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Stressing the importance of diplomacy, Mr Arafat said: “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hands.”

Hugo Chaves, 2006

In 2006, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez labelled the then-US President, George W Bush, as "the devil", saying the podium still "smells of sulphur" from Mr Bush's speech the day before.

Muammar Qaddafi, 2009

Reading from a sheet of handwritten notes, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi exceeded his allotted time by 85 minutes, speaking for more than an hour and a half, in a furious rant against the Security Council.

At one point Qaddafi ripped a page from the UN’s charter.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 2010 and 2011

In both 2010 and 2011 former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech caused delegates from Western countries to walk out.

In 2010, Mr Ahmadinejad alleged that the US had helped orchestrate the September 11 attacks, and in 2011 he accused Europe using the Holocaust as an excuse to support Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, 2012

Using a prop of a cartoon bomb, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu issued a red line to the General Assembly against allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Mr Netanyahu held up the drawing of a bomb, drawing a red line just below the area showing the completion of the 2nd stage of nuclear enrichment.

"I ask, given this record of Iranian aggression without nuclear weapons, just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons.” Mr Netanyahu put to the General Assembly. "Who among you would feel safe in the Middle East? Who would be safe in Europe? Who would be safe in America? Who would be safe anywhere?”


Read more:

Everything you need to know about the 73rd Session of the General Assembly

UN General Assembly 2018 schedule

Updated: September 18, 2019 10:52 AM

Sign up to our daily email
Most Popular