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UN Chief: Millions Live Under Shadow of DPRK Nuclear Threat

  • Margaret Besheer
  • VOA News

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 19, 2017.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened his first General Assembly gathering Tuesday warning that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are the world’s most serious challenge.

“Today proliferation is creating unimaginable danger, and disarmament is paralyzed,” Guterres said in New York.

“Millions of people live under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the secretary-general said, referring to North Korea by its formal name. “I condemn those tests unequivocally.”

Guterres commended the unity of the U.N. Security Council in its recent tightening and imposing of economic sanctions on Pyongyang, saying the move sends “a clear message” to the leadership there.

“Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” he warned. “The solution must be political — this is a time for statesmanship -- we must not sleepwalk our way into war.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 19, 2017.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 19, 2017.

World threats, challenges

The U.N. chief, who took office January 1, outlined several other threats and challenges facing the world and urged multilateral solutions.

“We are a world in pieces,” Guterres told world leaders. “We need to be a world at peace.”

Of the numerous entrenched conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, he said “no one is winning” and the most vulnerable in society are paying the highest price for the combatants’ “thirst for outright military victory, at any cost.”

On terrorism, the secretary-general said there is no cause or grievance that justifies such actions, but cautioned against heavy-handed approaches in dealing with it, saying they are counterproductive.

“As soon as we believe that violations of human rights and democratic freedoms are necessary to win the fight, we have lost the war,” he cautioned.

The U.N. chief, whose primary pillar is the prevention of conflict, called out the growing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar that has sent more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh in the past month. He has recently referred to the military’s abuses as ethnic cleansing.

He acknowledged a speech earlier Tuesday by de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her country.

“But let me emphasize again: the authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations and allow unhindered humanitarian access,” Guterres said. “They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long.”

FILE - Debris surrounds a destroyed structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, Fla. Rising sea levels and fierce storms have failed to stop relentless population growth along U.S. coasts in recent years, a new Associated Press analysis
FILE - Debris surrounds a destroyed structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, Fla. Rising sea levels and fierce storms have failed to stop relentless population growth along U.S. coasts in recent years, a new Associated Press analysis

Climate change

He spoke of the importance of mitigating the impact of climate change and urged governments to implement the Paris Climate accord.

“It is high time to get off the path of suicidal emissions,” Guterres said. “We know enough today to act — the science is unassailable.”

Guterres was the U.N.’s refugee chief for a decade before becoming secretary-general. He said of the migration crisis, he does not see it as a threat even if some others do.

“I see it as a challenge that, if properly managed, can help bring the world together,” he said.

“Instead of closed doors and open hostility, we need to reestablish the integrity of the refugee protection regime and the simple decency of human compassion.”

Guterres has a packed schedule this week, participating in numerous high level sessions on pressing global issues. He will also host a lunch Tuesday for the more than 120 heads of state and governments who are attending the General Assembly, and he has bilateral meetings planned with nearly every one of them, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

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