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Successful UN meeting for US, Israel

US and Israel got what they hoped for at the annual UN General Assembly meeting.

United States President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP

UNITED NATIONS - US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to get what they hoped for at the annual UN General Assembly after closing ranks to send a message to Iran that it may face war over its nuclear program.

Obama and Netanyahu did not meet with each other at the United Nations, where leaders and foreign ministers from the world body's 193 member states have gathered since last week to give speeches and hold private talks to resolve conflicts and boost trade.

But the two men left the UN meeting with more than they arrived with: Obama with an assurance that Israel would not attack Iran's nuclear sites before the November 6 US presidential election, and Netanyahu with a commitment from Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from producing an atomic bomb.

The General Assembly, concluding on Monday, was notable for what was not accomplished. World powers failed to break deadlocks over Iran's nuclear program, the conflicts in Syria, Mali and Congo, and the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

As in previous years, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assailed the United States, Israel and Europe, while calling for a new world order. He made his eighth and likely final address to a UN General Assembly.

The lack of substantive progress on the world's protracted conflicts led diplomats and analysts to question the relevance of the United Nations, saying it was incapable of moving decisively as it did last year on Libya.

"The diplomatic situation at the UN may have to get worse before it gets better," said Richard Gowan of New York University. "Perhaps we need a diplomatic debacle on the scale of Iraq - or a peacekeeping failure like Srebrenica (Bosnia) - before big states wake up and ask why the UN is stagnating."

In July 1995, UN peacekeepers in Bosnia failed to prevent the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

Analysts and diplomats argue that the lack of UN backing for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 highlighted the need for a UN seal of approval for military interventions. Widely seen as "illegal," as former UN chief Kofi Annan described it, Western powers made certain that the NATO intervention in Libya last year had the backing of the UN Security Council unlike the Iraq war.

While the United States and Israel have long refused to rule out the use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Netanyahu has criticised Obama for failing to make clear to Tehran under what circumstances Western powers would be prepared to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

Suggestions from Israel that he was letting down the Jewish state were an irritant Obama did not want to put up with in the final weeks before an election, especially given the way the issue has been leveraged by Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Meanwhile, Western officials say, Netanyahu may want to avoid antagonising Israel's main ally and poisoning ties with the man who could occupy the White House for another four years.

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