UNITED NATIONS – A critical showdown is looming over the skyline of New York City, as the leaders of Israel and Iran both will be attending the United Nations General Assembly later this month.
President Obama also is expected to be on hand.
Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which has put Tehran at odds with the U.N. Security Council, is sure to be a prime topic on the agenda of the 2012 meetings, diplomats confirm. Western nations believe the program is intended to produce nuclear weapons.
Obama, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are scheduled to attend the meetings that start Sept. 23. In addition, French President Francois Hollande and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron also will attend the U.N. forum.
All the principals have been invited to a high-powered lunch hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In addition to Ahmadinejad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to use the 2012 General Assembly to advance his campaign for unilateral statehood, a move Washington insists must be negotiated with the Israelis and not used as a political football inside the United Nations.
All of it comes less than six weeks before U.S. Election Day.
Obama has been quiet regarding what he intends to discuss before the U.N. diplomats during his three-day stay.
Most diplomats believe the U.S. president will be forced to negotiate a political minefield during his trip to New York.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, has made it clear that Iran and its expanding nuclear “research” program will be the prime focus of his four-day visit, which comes amid increasing talk of a military strike to thwart Tehran’s march to perfect a nuclear weapon.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Netanyahu was frank on the dangers Iran poses.
“I intend to tell the nations of the world (at the General Assembly) in a clear voice the truth about the terror regime of Iran,” he said.
Earlier, speaking in Tehran, Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei labeled Netanyahu and his government ministers “a pack of Zionist wolves.”
After his New York visit, Netanyahu is expected to travel to Washington for an additional meeting with Obama at the White House.
Just last week, Iran and Russia announced that Tehran’s new nuclear power station near the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr had become fully operational.
The Russian-built complex had been beset by cost overruns, computer viruses and assorted construction delays, making it more than five years late and almost $1 billion over budget.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. atomic watchdog, Bushehr is among the top 20 largest nuclear power stations in the world.
A second reactor at the site is expected to be completed in late 2013.
The Iranians have publicly stated that a third reactor may also be built.
Published reports claim that the complex is not only guarded by Iranian military personnel but also by Russian and Chinese forces on “loan” to Tehran.
All of which comes as Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, told state television that Iran is prepared to increase its uranium enrichment to 20 percent.
“We have no reason to retreat from producing the 20 percent enrichment, because we need just as much to meet our needs,” he said.
Such a development, according to IAEA sources, would move the Islamic government significantly closer to producing bomb-grade nuclear fuel.
The 20 percent enrichment, if confirmed, could prompt new actions by Washington and Jerusalem.
Israel, in the past, has drawn a line in the sand at the 20-percent enrichment mark. Anything beyond that is generally recognized as only having military intentions.
As such, the Security Council, say Russian diplomats, is likely to call a special ministerial meeting during the General Assembly to put increasing pressure on both Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to heed earlier council warnings.
U.N. officials have been quiet regarding what to expect at the upcoming assembly as Ban Ki-moon has called a private meeting of senior staff worldwide to a secluded retreat in Turin, Italy, which runs through the weekend.