Interview with Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly

10 October 2011 – The past few weeks have been busy for Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the current President of the General Assembly, one of the United Nations’ five principal organs.

A veteran diplomat, Mr. Al-Nasser comes to the post after a long career serving the international community, both as a diplomat for Qatar and within the UN system.

Prior to his election, by acclamation, as President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly on 22 June 2011, he spent the past 13 years serving as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations. During this time, he played leading roles on some of the Assembly’s committees; served as Vice-President of the Assembly’s 57th session; chaired the Group of 77 and China at the United Nations; and represented his country on the UN Security Council during Qatar’s two-year term on that body (2006 to 2007).

On the eve of his departure to Finland to attend a seminar on Migration and Communication, Mr. Al-Nasser spoke with the UN News Centre on various issues, including his election as President of the General Assembly and his priorities for the one-year term.

UN News Centre: What do you see as the General Assembly’s biggest challenges for the coming year?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: My theme for the 66th session is going to be mediation. I think it’s timely. The world is going through a difficult time and the United Nations should play an important role in solving many political problems around the world.

As I mentioned in my statement before I took over, I realized there are some important issues on the agenda of the United Nations – some old, some new. The world is going through a difficult time – politically, economically, financially, with food, with climate change, with development. If we expect a very effective role for the UN as a whole, we need to have a very efficient UN.I think the international community should really pay more attention and focus on solving these problems, so I’ve chosen four pillars [the peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and sustainable development and global prosperity] and I encourage Member States to look at the four pillars and work with me. And hopefully in this coming year we can achieve something. It’s not easy, because the agenda of the 66th is a very challenging agenda, but when there is a will there is a way.

The Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, addresses the general debate of the Assembly's 66th session, mentioning Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser's assumption of the role of president. (September 2011)

UN News Centre: What response have you had to the pillars from the Assembly’s membership?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: In my meetings, and sitting at the podium of the General Assembly, I listen carefully. I’ve talked with heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers…they fully support them. But how to move forward? We have to work together. At the end of the day, it’s up to Member States to decide which way they want to go, to find the follow-up mechanism and try to enhance these four pillars.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, shows a copy of the application for full UN membership which he submitted to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (September 2011)

UN News Centre: What is happening with Palestine’s request for admission to the membership of the General Assembly?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: If the Palestinian Authority decides to come to the General Assembly, they have to follow the rules of procedure. They have to submit a draft resolution and consult with Member States on what language they want in it, and then we set up the day that we can deal with this matter. The Palestinians requested that the Secretary-General send their application to Security Council, so it’s on the Council agenda. But no one has approached me yet regarding recognition. As soon as they are ready, we will be ready for that.

GA President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (centre) arrives for a high-level meeting on Libya, on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. (September 2011)

UN News Centre: Your views on the Arab Spring?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: If you listened to the statements by heads of state from all over the world [during the recent General Assembly’s general debate period], they really admire what’s happened and what is happening today in the Middle East: what we call the “Arab Spring.”

The Arab Spring – what’s it all about? People looking for freedom, democracy, respect for their dignity and human rights. But I think this applies everywhere, not only the Middle East.

There are also practical effects: in my role as President of the General Assembly, on 16 September, we accepted the Transitional National Council as the official representative of the people of Libya and this is a good achievement.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the United Nations, addresses the General Assembly following his election as the President of the Assembly's 66th session. (June 2011)

UN News Centre: Some say that revitalising the General Assembly, as part of UN reform, is an impossible task. What do you say to that?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: This will always be an old and a new issue at the same time. If we expect a very effective role for the UN as a whole, we need to have a very efficient UN. The UN can deal with all the problems of the world today. It has had a very important role in the history of humanity, solving many [global] problems, and assisting many states to overcome their own problems.

I think we need a very effective United Nations – but, in the end, it’s also up to Member States and their political will, as to how serious they are about this reform. It’s not only about the General Assembly, but the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat. It’s under my responsibility as well and I will try my best to convince, to urge, to encourage Member States to work very seriously on these issues.

GA President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (left) confers with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and another senior official, before the opening of the Assembly's general debate. (September 2011)

UN News Centre: In terms of public perception, do you think that the General Assembly has gotten the recognition that it warrants for its role in global affairs?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: I think the General Assembly is the most important UN organ because it represents the whole world – 193 countries – and we should give this organ the [appropriate] level of responsibility and importance to deal with the world’s issues and demands.

UN News Centre: In a year’s time, when you’re at the end of your term, what will be your criteria on deciding if it was a successful term as General Assembly President?

GA President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, meets with the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (September 2011)

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: Well, I cannot say anything about myself, it’s up to Member States to judge whether I was a good president or not! So, I hope to hear positive words about my mission, my team – as I said earlier, it’s one of the most important sessions [of the General Assembly].

UN News Centre: Your first posting as a diplomat for Qatar was in Beirut in 1972, in the tense lead-up to Lebanon’s civil war some years later. What impact did being posted in such a regional hotspot have on you?

The then-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia holds an informal discussion with Qatar’s Ambassador to the UN, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, before a Security Council meeting on energy, security and climate issues. (April 2007)

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: I was lucky I got the chance to study in a [Lebanese] university and work at the embassy. I was really full of ambition and energy to achieve a lot… at that age, everyone goes through this. But at the same time, living in Beirut when the civil war started, it wasn’t easy. Beirut at that time was a very active capital in the Middle East, politically and socially – you name it. I learned a lot. But then, from that young age, to also see the negative side of the civil war… that made me really feel different and think how peace and stability are very important, because we saw how the civil war really damaged that country and it took the Lebanese [many] years to recover from that time.

UN News Centre: What is an average day like for you as President of the General Assembly?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: There are many, many issues on the agenda, with the beginning now of the real work of the 66th session through its six committees. So, myself and my team, we are engaged in assisting the committees and assisting Member States in dealing with some issues that concern their governments.

Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the new Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, presents his credentials to Secretary-General Kofi Annan (right). (September 1998)

Also, besides that, I travel to attend meetings, representing the UN General Assembly. This week I will go to Finland to chair a big event with [former Finnish president] Martti Ahtisaari regarding the role of information [in migration], and then to South Korea to attend a conference on desertification. From now until the end of the year, I have Rio+20 on sustainable development, then we have COP17 on climate change, and the Alliance of Civilizations will also hold a meeting in Qatar. The agenda is full!

UN News Centre: After a long and varied career in diplomacy, including stints serving on the Security Council and as vice-president of the General Assembly, what does it mean for you to now hold the presidency of that body?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: I’ve served the international community through different bodies and to reach this level – as you know, the President of the General Assembly is the highest global position [in international diplomacy] – it’s a great honour, to have this trust placed in me by the international community. The experience that I gained through all these years, in bilateral and multilateral settings, will help me and assist my mission. I’m very proud and I hope I will be up to [the international community’s] expectations.

Alongside Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the 65th session of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, announces his successor. (June 2011)

UN News Centre: What was the reaction of Qataris to the news of one of their own countrymen assuming the presidency of the General Assembly?

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser: They are proud of that, and if you listen the speech of his Highness, the Emir of Qatar, on 21 September… that was great and I really I appreciate that very much. Of course, without the support of my government, it would not be easy to achieve what I have achieved. They [Qataris] are proud and they pay a lot of attention. It’s always covered in the [national] media, and I received many, many phone calls, where they said “we are very proud of you, you are doing a great thing for the world and for Qatar.”