UN General Assembly Draws Friends and Foes

Starting next week, thousands of diplomats from around the world will congregate in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly meetings, clogging streets with motorcades and security teams.

A chance for international leaders to meet and greet with other countries and make their views known before the world body, the global platform is frequently too good to pass up for some leaders, specifically those who use the U.N. lectern to preach anti-American gospel.

As U.N. host, the U.S. government is obligated to allow leaders from all U.N. member countries to attend the event, including those from countries hostile to the United States.

Ahmadinejad Makes Headlines; Chavez Steals the Spotlight

Last year, while Irani President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made headlines with his controversial attendance despite heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program, it was Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who stole the spotlight.

Chavez referred to President Bush as "the devil" and accused him of speaking "as if he owned the world."

"As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: 'The Devil's Recipe.'"

This year Ahmadinejad and Chavez will both be back, as will Chavez's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro.

No stranger to international political theater, Maduro created his own drama last year when he purchased one-way tickets to Venezuela in cash on the day of travel. The move raised red flags for security officials who automatically asked Maduro to pass through additional screening. Maduro, who had not shown the diplomatic passport that would have exempt him from additional screening, immediately alleged that he was being detained and abused.

A top American diplomat went to JFK airport to personally apologize.

Ahmadinejad's '07 Controversy

So far Ahmadinejad has already inflamed public opinion in the United States with his intention to visit the site where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Though his request was denied by the New York Police Department, the firebrand Iranian president still plans to speak at Columbia University on Monday. A city council member has contacted the university president, begging him to cancel the lecture.

Beyond the agreement that, as host, the United States is obligated to allow representatives of U.N. countries to attend the General Assembly, in the case of some — like Iran, Cuba and North Korea — their movements are restricted to a 25-mile radius around the U.N. headquarters.

The U.N. Headquarters Agreement obligations haven't deterred some presidential hopefuls like Republican Fred Thompson from declaring that if he were president he would never allow Ahmadinejad to set foot on American soil.

In the event that a leader is deemed a security threat to the host country, that leader can be denied a visa. This year one of Ahmadinejad's diplomats, Iran's ambassador to the U.N. Mission in Geneva, was not allowed to come to New York because he was identified as one of the students who had taken Americans hostage in 1979 during the diplomatic crisis in Iran.

Not All Will Attend

Some foreign leaders are hesitant to leave their countries to attend the General Assembly meetings; many fear they will be overthrown if they leave the country.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will not attend the meetings, and neither will his prime minister or foreign minister. A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington says that the tenuous political situation in Pakistan — weeks away from a contentious presidential election — is the reason that none of the top officials from Islamabad will make the trip.

Their concerns are not without precedent. Last year when former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra came to New York for the U.N. meetings, he was kicked out of power by a Thai military coup.

List of Anti-American Leaders Grows

Ahmadinejad and Chavez won't be the only foreign agitators in attendance. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who drew Washington's ire after he supported legal coca cultivation in the Andean country, plans to attend the meetings.

While there will be no repeat performance of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's famous 1960 address to the United Nations after his communist revolution, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque will be there. Castro remains ill in Havana and has transferred most governing authority to his brother Raul.

Zimbabwe's embattled president, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for almost 30 years despite mounting opposition from within his country and abroad, will also attend the meetings.

Zimbabwe battles astronomical inflation rates and an increasingly disenchanted populace. Mugabe recently accused the U.S. ambassador in his country of attempting to undermine his authority by calling for a democratic transition.