Six Unforgettable Moments at the UN General Assembly

The UN has seen some stirring theatrics in its 70 year history.

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Cuban leader Fidel Castro a the UN General Assembly in 1960.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro a the UN General Assembly in 1960.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Khrushchev pounds the table with his shoe. Castro speaks for hours. Gadhafi tears up the U.N. charter. As the United Nations marks its 70th anniversary and world leaders gather in New York on Monday for the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, here's a look back at six memorable moments from past sessions:

Fidel Castro's epic address

Cuban leader Fidel Castro denounced the United States in the longest timed speech ever at the U.N. General Assembly — 4 hours and 29 minutes — on Sept. 26, 1960. Clad in his trademark green military fatigues, Castro said the revolution he led 20 months earlier had ended the country's status as "a colony of the United States," but the U.S. still believed it had "the right to promote and encourage subversion in our country." In the rambling speech, Castro defended Cuba's links to the Soviet Union, expressed serious concern that America's "imperialist government" might attack Cuba, and called U.S. President John F. Kennedy "an illiterate and ignorant millionaire." Castro also complained of undergoing "degrading and humiliating treatment" in New York, including being evicted from his hotel.

Khrushchev bangs his shoe
Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, during a General Assembly debate on colonialism on Oct. 12, 1960, claimed the right to respond to the Philippines representative who was protesting Eastern European states' lack of freedom as Soviet satellites. Khrushchev got to his feet and started pounding the table angrily. He then picked up a shoe that was under the table and banged it several times in indignation. His granddaughter later wrote that he was wearing new shoes that were tight, so he took them off while sitting. She and his interpreter said that when Khrushchev stood up, he pounded the table so hard with his fists that his watch fell off, and when he went to retrieve it, he saw the shoe and switched to banging that instead.

Nikita Khrushchev at the UN General Assembly in 1960.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Arafat's olive branch or gun

Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, addressed the General Assembly for the first time on Nov. 13, 1974, becoming the first representative of a non-member organization to speak to the world body. He appealed to the U.N. to enable the Palestinians "to establish national independent sovereignty" over their own land. In his most memorable lines, Arafat said: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." After the speech, the PLO was granted observer status at the United Nations and its right to self-determination was recognized.

Yasser Arafat at the United Nations, in 1974.Credit: Haaretz

Chavez calls Bush "the devil"

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" in a fiery speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2006, making the sign of the cross in a dramatic gesture and accusing Bush of "talking as if he owned the world." The address by the leftist leader was seen as one of Chavez' boldest moves to lead an alliance of countries opposed to the United States. Referring to Bush's address to the assembly the previous day, Chavez declared: "Yesterday, the devil came here." He also called Bush a "spokesman of imperialism" who was trying "to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world."

Hugo Chavez makes the sign of the cross during a speech at the UN General Assembly. September 20, 2006Credit: AP

Gadhafi rips UN charter
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi swept to the podium of the General Assembly for the first time in 40 years on Sept. 23, 2009, and delivered a rambling speech that lasted 1 hour and 36 minutes — and emptied much of the chamber. Dressed in flowing brown Bedouin robes and a black beret, he chastised the United Nations for failing to prevent dozens of wars, suggested that those who caused "mass murder" in Iraq be tried, and defended the Taliban's right to establish an Islamic emirate. At one point, Gadhafi waved a copy of the U.N. Charter and appeared to tear it, saying he did not recognize the document's authority. Later that day, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the assembly: "I stand here to reaffirm the United Nations Charter, not to tear it up."

Muammar Gadhafi Credit: Bloomberg

Netanyahu's 'red line' on Iran nuclear program
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2012, held up a large, cartoonish diagram of a bomb. The bomb was divided into sections marking 70 percent and 90 percent. Netanyahu said that Iran was 70 percent of the way to enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon and urged the world to draw a clear "red line" and stop the country's nuclear program. He then drew a red line under 90 percent, asserting that the Iranians would be that far along by mid-2013 and must not be allowed to get there. Netanyahu warned that "nothing could imperil the world more than a nuclear-armed Iran" and insisted that "red lines" prevent wars.

Prime Minister Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb at the UN General Assembly in September 2012.Credit: Reuters

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