U.N. Elects Saudi Ambassador President of General Assembly

Saudi Arabia’s low profile at the United Nations moved center stage this week with the election of Samir Shihabi as president of the General Assembly.

There is little indication yet as to how the election of the Saudi ambassador will affect Israel, which had supported Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister, Michael Somare, for the post.

The other candidate in the three-way race was Abdullah Saleh al-Ashtal of Yemen. Shihabi won handily with 83 of 150 votes cast; Somare followed with 47 votes, and Saleh al-Ashtal trailed with 20.

Israeli Ambassador Yoram Aridor declined to comment on Shihabi’s election, other than to reiterate that Israel had supported Somare.

Shihabi himself was cautious this week on answering questions related to the Middle East.

When asked at a news conference about the possibility of rescinding or altering the 1975 General Assembly resolution branding Zionism as racism, he-responded: “I don’t-think the president of the General Assembly has the right to speak about rescinding or discussing resolutions of the General Assembly until they come to the floor.”

Shihabi answered a question about the proposed Middle East peace conference in a similar fashion, saying it would be premature for him to comment until the matter was taken up by the General Assembly.

However, Shihabi expressed his hope that “steps to find a peaceful solution will continue.”

Dr. Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, said Saudi Arabia’s move from behind the scenes, where it normally operates, to the limelight constitutes a “remarkable change.”

Shihabi, born in Jerusalem, has served as Saudi Arabia’s U.N. envoy since 1983.

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