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A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after his friend was shot by government soldiers during clashes in central Aleppo last month. Syria’s civil war is expected to dominate speeches at the UN. (GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS)
A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after his friend was shot by government soldiers during clashes in central Aleppo last month. Syria’s civil war is expected to dominate speeches at the UN. (GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS)

Troubling tensions cloud United Nations Add to ...

For other Western countries, the protests also raised new fears they could suddenly be targeted. When French magazine Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of Mohammed, France put its missions under security alert. The move underlined to Western nations just how the words, or drawings, of citizens could spark a violent reaction on streets across the world.

Just as unsettling to some Western nations was the response from leaders in the Muslim world. The U.S. felt Mr. Morsi was slow to respond while Egyptian prosecutors issued warrants for people allegedly involved in making the film. In Pakistan, a cabinet minister, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, offered a $100,000 bounty for killing the filmmaker, though on Monday his government said it was not an official position.

For the most part, individuals reacted to the actions of individuals, and nations were dragged in – but the clash of cultures between Western countries asserting they must accept freedom of expression and Muslim nations offended by the insult to religion was not easily bridged by diplomacy.

IRAN VERSUS ISRAEL: QUESTION OF WAR

The venomous rhetoric that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad levels at Israel and the United States has become a focal point of attention at United Nations summits, but it’s hardly the main event any more. Mr. Ahmadinejad is, many Iran watchers believe, an out-of-favour front man for the real powers of the regime.

The issue now is not rhetoric, but whether Israel will launch a war to derail Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heading to New York to make the case for preventing a nuclear Iran. “I will reiterate that the most dangerous country in the world must not be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world,” he said in his weekly cabinet communiqué. He claimed that Iran is on the 20-yard line in its quest.

Military strikes, whether launched by Israel alone or the United States, obviously hold the potential for roiling relations with the entire region, and engendering anger. They could possibly win sympathy for an Iran that has lost standing.

Mr. Netanyahu’s public pressure for the Obama administration to adopt more urgent warnings of military action has also marked an unprecedented direct involvement in a U.S. election campaign – and led Democrats to complain. They also blamed Mr. Netanyahu for leaking a story claiming Barack Obama – who will not meet other leaders one-on-one while in New York – snubbed him by refusing a meeting.

CANADA: A CLEAR POSITION

Stephen Harper will meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, even if Barack Obama won’t. And there can be little doubt where Canada’s Prime Minister stands on Israel and Iran.

Mr. Harper is travelling to New York on Thursday, the very day when prime ministers are slotted to deliver their UN speeches, but he won’t venture into the General Assembly to present Canada’s positions. His foreign minister, John Baird, offered an explanation about why he will give the speech instead, saying foreign ministers often fill in.

Mr. Harper’s real pretext for going is that he’ll receive a “world statesman award” on Thursday from the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation – which also awarded it to Jean Chrétien and Angela Merkel. The organization’s founder said Mr. Harper was being honoured for his unswerving stands, notably his support for Israel.

The PM’s broader attitude to the Middle East has been unambiguous, and skeptical of the Arab Spring. His government moved to cut diplomatic ties with Iran. Mr. Baird, speaking after the wave of recent protests in the Muslim world, repeatedly pointed out that the Harper government was skeptical of the Arab Spring protests and their potential to deliver democracy.

“We hope we’re proven wrong,” he said last week.

UNITED STATES: TOUGHER TONES

For Barack Obama, his speech to the UN Tuesday represents part of the electoral advantages of incumbency: a place at the centre of the world stage. It’s a political reminder that he’s the President.

Election politics, however, sway the handling of international events.

The campaign season has no doubt heightened Mr. Obama’s aversion to sending overly militaristic signals on either Syria or Iran to a war-weary public. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has proposed arming the Syrian opposition and accused Mr. Obama of being soft on Iran, and a weak ally to Israel. Mr. Obama, in a 60 Minutes interview this weekend, responded by suggesting that Mr. Romney wants to start another war.

Mr. Romney has made gaffes by being too quick to attack after the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was killed, but his general tone – that Mr. Obama has been to quick to appease the Arab world – could well force the incumbent to toughen his tone at a time when anti-American public sentiment is running high in parts of the Muslim world.

In an election campaign, Mr. Obama can’t afford to let staunch support for Israel drop, even while Mr. Netanyahu presses him publicly. But the bad blood developing between the two leaders has the potential for making this U.S. election determinant for U.S.-Israel relations, as an Obama administration might hold a grudge against Mr. Netanyahu.

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