World Events

Saudi King, in First U.N. Speech, Assails Longtime Nemesis Iran

The king also expressed support for the Trump administration’s efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he conspicuously said nothing about the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, as done in recent weeks by two close Saudi regional allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

He concluded by expressing sympathy for the people of Lebanon, struggling from a dysfunctional government and the aftermath of the devastating port explosion last month that leveled part of Beirut. The king called the blast “the result of the hegemony of Hezbollah,” the militant Lebanese Shiite group aligned with Iran. Hezbollah has denied any role in the port blast, which was caused by an abandoned stockpile of ammonium nitrate.

The king said nothing negative about Saudi Arabia’s own military role in the Yemen conflict, a quagmire that the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, where the threat of famine now looms.

He also made no mention of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, its extensive use of capital punishment and the targeting of dissidents including Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in Turkey two years ago. The king’s son has been linked by American intelligence to Mr. Khashoggi’s death, but the Saudi judiciary has prosecuted only low-level operatives in a secretive trial that was concluded a few weeks ago.

Gender equality is one of the U.N.’s sustainable development goals — 17 measurements of a better life that the organization has committed to achieving by 2030. But in a stark reflection of the challenges in reaching that goal, most of the General Assembly speakers are men. It was not until Wednesday that a female president, Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, took the virtual podium, the 48th leader to speak.

Ms. Caputova, who was elected as her country’s first female president last year, said nothing in her speech about gender bias. But she had a pointed message for the world’s strongmen autocrats who have sought to crush their opponents by force.

“Too often we see situations in the world, when people are intimidated, beaten or even threatened with their lives,” she said, mentioning the political crackdown in Belarus and the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader. “And only because they stood up for their rights. The spread of authoritarian disease is a threat to all of us.”


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