Issue 159 - August 02 - Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar Elected PGA

New York, 02 August 2011

On 22 June, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser was elected by acclamation as President of the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly (GA). As the GA presidency rotates between the five geographic regions, Mr. Al-Nasser was nominated by the Asian Group this year as the sole candidate for the presidency.

The Selection Process

Though the GA presidency is often painted as carrying little formal power, with each term lasting only one year, it is nevertheless a sought-after position. Qatar announced its campaign for the seat as a member of the Asian Group nearly a decade ago. It competed with Nepal, which announced its interest two years earlier and energetically lobbied its neighbors in South Asia for support. Even so, it was not selected for two more regional rotations, during which South Korea and Bahrain won the Asian Group seat in 2001 and 2006, respectively.1

The New President: Background & Priorities

Mr. Al-Nasser, a senior Qatari diplomat, was formerly the permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) for over a decade. During that time, he has chaired the Group of 77 and served as GA Vice-President and, most recently, President of the Security Council. He has also held high-profile elected positions at the UN, including the presidency of the High Level Committee on South-South Cooperation and chairmanship of the Fourth Committee on Special Political Issues and Decolonization.

In his post-election speech, he acknowledged the “enormous political social, economic and environmental challenges” in the years ahead. He hoped to build consensus on major global challenges, including “human rights, sustainable development and poverty eradication.”2

For the upcoming GA session, Mr. Al-Nasser proposed a high-level debate under the theme of “the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means.”3 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the new President on his efforts in supporting the “responsibility to protect” concept, among other issues.

Lastly, he affirmed his aim of strengthening the role of the GA and improving cooperation with other UN organs, specialized agencies, and international organizations.

Assessments of the Election

Within the UN system itself, Mr. Al-Nasser received strong support. Congratulating the new President, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “In more than 12 years at the United Nations, you have always appreciated the special role of the General Assembly.” He commended Mr. Al-Nasser’s record of able leadership in various UN bodies. Current GA President Joseph Deiss affirmed that Mr. Al-Nasser’s efforts in diplomacy had “won the respect and esteem” of his colleagues. Citing the structural reforms under way at the UN, regarding GA revitalization and otherwise, he expressed confidence in the President-elect’s continued work in that direction.

The press generally presented more qualified assessments. According to some reports, UN diplomats say Mr. Al-Nasser is a “competent diplomat” who will not “ruffl[e] Western feathers” as did the two GA presidents preceding Mr. Deiss. Both were known for their strong views on the Middle East. However, unlike Mr. Deiss, who stressed that it was “essential to show our solidarity” with the Arab Spring, Mr. Al-Nasser expressed a measured stance towards pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

Other relevant issues are Security Council reform, in which Mr. Al-Nasser expressed interest in this spring, and the potential upcoming resolution on Palestinian statehood. Most analysts and reports have remained neutral on his candidacy.

Mr. Al-Nasser will succeed Mr. Deiss in mid-September, when the 66th session of the General Assembly begins.

[2] United Nations General Assembly, “Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar elected president of General Assembly’s sixty-sixth session; 20 vice-presidents, main committee chairs also named,” Department of Public Information, GA/11105, 22 June 2011, New York.