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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Robert Siegel.
On most days the mood around the United Nations is predictably diplomatic. There are disagreements, but they're usually wrapped in jargon about resolutions and communiqués. Nikita Khrushchev famously broke that mood when he once banged his desk with his shoe, and today Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made Khrushchev sound positively reserved by comparison. At the lectern addressing the General Assembly, Chavez called President Bush the devil and that was just the beginning.
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, it was just one of a number of speeches critical of American policy.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez certainly lived up to his reputation as a firebrand on the international scene. He took center stage today at the U.N. General Assembly to call on nations to rise up against what he called America's hegemony. Speaking through an interpreter, Chavez even had some recommended reading for his colleagues, Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.
President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Through Translator) It's an excellent book to help us understand what has bee happening in the world throughout the 20th Century and what's happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet. The hegemonistic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species.
KELEMEN: Chavez flipped through a transcript of President Bush's speech yesterday and lambasted the president's talk of a freedom agenda in the world. The Venezuelan president got plenty of chuckles from making the sign of the cross and calling President Bush the devil.
President CHAVEZ: And it smells of sulfur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentlemen to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.
KELEMEN: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, called the remarks insulting but added they are not worthy of a U.S. response.
Mr. JOHN BOLTON (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): We're not going to address that sort of comic strip approach to international affairs. And as I say, the real issue here is he knows he can exercise freedom of speech on that podium. As I say, he could exercise it in Central Park, too. How about giving the same freedom to the people of Venezuela?
KELEMEN: The U.S. had only a junior note taker in the room listening to the speech. Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, a key oil supplier, have been frosty or years, with Washington and Caracas often trading insults.
Washington is also lobbying hard to keep Venezuela off the U.N. Security Council. Chavez is vying for an open seat on the Council to have more clout in the U.N. system.
America's power on the Security Council was one of the themes of a speech last night by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's locked in a nuclear standoff with the West, but through an interpreter he argued that it is the U.S. nuclear arsenal that is a threat to the world.
President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through Translator) Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generations of nuclear weapons. What do they need these weapons for? Is the development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons designed to promote peace and democracy or are these weapons in fact instruments of coercion and threat against other peoples and governments? How long should the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons?
KELEMEN: There was another bit of diplomatic showmanship last night by Bolivia's new president. Evo Morales, an ally of Chavez, challenged U.S. drug policy in the Andes, calling it a form of neo-colonization, and he won applause as he pulled out a cocoa leaf, holding it up to the General Assembly delegates and talking about its traditional uses in Bolivia. He too spoke through an interpreter.
President EVO MORALES (Bolivia): (Through Translator) It is not possible for the cocoa leaf to be legal for Coca-Cola and to be illegal for other consumptions in our country and throughout the world.
KELEMEN: On Monday the State Department put Bolivia on a list of major drug transit or drug producing countries, criticizing Morales for his stand on cocoa farming. Morales dismissed the report. He seemed at ease making his U.N. debut, reading off some notes scribbled on what looked to be a back of an envelope. The leftist leader talked about his indigenous roots and what he called the pillaging of natural resources in his country. He said he was determined to reverse the injustices in the world, a theme of many speakers gathered here.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.
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