The List

The Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said During a U.N. Speech

History is rich with memorable orations delivered by the world's leaders as nations convene to discuss the critical issues of the day. From the impassioned to the provocative to the truly bizarre, here are  the 10 most unforgettable remarks to come out of the United Nations general assembly speeches in the last sixty years. 

Indian Diplomat Filibusters Himself to (near) Death

Year: 1957

Quote: "The Security Council regards this as a dispute. It is not a dispute for territory. There is only one problem before you ... that problem is the problem of aggression."

Impact: With this epic filibuster during a debate on Kashmir, Indian U.N. envoy Krishna Menon holds the record for the longest speech in the history of the U.N. Security Council. In total it lasted over eight hours. Menon actually collapsed from exhaustion partway through and had to be hospitalized. He returned later and continued for another hour while a doctor monitored his blood pressure.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Castro Goes Long

Year: 1960

Quote: ''Were Kennedy not a millionaire, illiterate, and ignorant, then he would obviously understand that you cannot revolt against the peasants.''

Impact: He's not quite in Menon's league, but Cuban President Fidel Castro's  debut speech at the U.N. clocked in at four and a half hours, the longest ever in the General Assembly. Castro's first visit to the United States in 1959 had been a bit friendlier, but by 1960 he was firmly in the Soviet Camp and used his speech to blast U.S. imperialism and insult John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the U.S. presidential candidates at the time. Castro provided another bizarre memory from that year's assembly by keeping live chickens in his hotel room.


Krushchev Puts His Foot Down

Year: 1960

Quote: "Mr. President, call that toady of American imperialism to order."

Impact: Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev provided one of the cold war's most iconic moments when, in an attempt to silence a Filipino delegate who was railing against Soviet imperialism, he issued the above epithet, removed his shoe, and began banging it on the table. The gesture has become a classic example of overheated rhetoric, but it shouldn't have been all that surprising coming from the man who coined the phrase, "we will bury you."

Lodge Spies a Bug

Year: 1960

Quote: "It so happens that I have here today a concrete example of Soviet espionage so that you can see for yourself."

Impact: Colin Powell famously used a vial of "anthrax" while trying in vain to win Security Council support for military action in Iraq, but there are times when props have been used a bit more effectively. During a debate over the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over Soviet territory, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge decided to go on the offensive. He took out a wooden seal that had been presented to the U.S. embassy in Moscow by the Soviet-American Friendship Society and then proceeded to extract a tiny microphone out of the eagle's beak with a pair of tweezers. The Soviet resolution condemning the U.S. spy flights was defeated.

Arafat Preps for Battle

Year: 1974

Quote: "An old world order is crumbling before our eyes, as imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and racism, whose chief form is Zionism, ineluctably perish."

Impact: The Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman was invited to address the General Assembly for the first time at the request of the non-aligned movement, a coalition of developing countries that has been historically critical of Israel in the U.N., Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat took the stage wearing fatigues and delivered a blistering attack on Zionism. One year later, the notorious "Zionism equals racism" was passed and Israel's relations with the U.N. have been, at best, uneasy ever since.

AFP/Getty Images

Ortega Goes Rambo on Reagan

Year: 1987

Quote: "Before consulting the hotheads who present various military options such as a military invasion: remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in the movies.''

Impact: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used the platform of the U.N. to assail U.S policy in Central America, particularly the financing of the Contra rebels and supporting the Somoza dictatorship, which Ortega said "bled the Nicaraguan people dry." The angry speech prompted a walkout from the U.S. delegation. "The people of Nicaragua may have to sit and listen to him, but I don't," said then U.S. Ambassador Vernon Walters.

Chavez Sniffs out a Sinner

Year: 2006

Quote: "The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still."

Impact: Venezuela's theatrical president, Hugo Chavez, has always loved the spotlight that the General Assembly provides and it was never more in evidence than when, with a flourish, he compared U.S. president, George W. Bush, to Satan. Chavez also began his regular habit of using his speeches to plug books by prominent leftists authors, when he held up a book by U.S. professor Noam Chomsky. Chavez referred to this famous moment in his speech this year, saying that it "no longer smells like sulfur" now that Barack Obama is president.


Bashir Denies a Genocide

Year: 2006

Quote: "The picture that volunteer organizations try to give in order to solicit more assistance and more aid, have given a negative result."

Impact: At the 2006 speech, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir claimed that the ongoing slaughter in Darfur, which then President George W. Bush had recently referred to as "genocide," was in fact a scheme cooked up by Western aid organizations to solicit funding. On the sidelines of the meeting, Bashir went further, blaming Israel and Zionist organizations for spreading lies in order to weaken the Sudanese government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made this claim as well.

Ahmadinejad Hates on Zionists

Year: 2008

Quote: "The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a minuscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner."

Impact: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has regularly used the UN as a platform to rail against Western powers, particularly his arch-enemy Israel. In his 2008 speech he accused "the Zionist entity" of an array of crimes including causing the South Ossetia war. Another notable feature of Ahmadinejad's speech is the heavy use of religious rhetoric and his use of Shiite religious teachings.

What is Qaddafi Doing?

Year: 2009

Quote: "It should not be called a security council, it should be called a terror council."

Impact: After 40 years in power, Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qaddafi spoke to the United Nations for the first time at this year's general assembly and certainly made up for lost time. In his 100 minute speech, Qaddafi listed half a century's worth of grievances and conspiracy theories including accusing the Untied States of developing swine flu and questioning the official record of the Kennedy assassination. Most of Qaddafi's wrath was reserved for the U.N. Security Council, which he likened to al Qaeda. Qaddafi's accommodations provided another sideshow at this year's assembly, as the Libyan leader was rebuffed in his attempts to set up a Bedouin tent in several New York-area locations before finally making up camp in Donald Trump's backyard.


The List

Five Stories to Watch for U.N. Week

What to expect when Obama, Hu, Qaddafi, and 120 other world leaders descend on New York.



When: Tuesday

What: Heads of state from over 100 countries are scheduled to attend Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s “high level meeting” on climate change. The idea behind the meeting is to generate some political momentum ahead of the critical international climate talks in Copenhagen this December. This momentum is badly needed:  The Kyoto Protocols will expire in 2012, and it will likely take a few years for countries to ratify a new climate change treaty.

Last time the secretary general hosted one of these confabs was in September 2007. Back then, heads of state from the two top emitters, China and the United States, didn’t even bother to show up. The atmospherics, as it were, are different this time around. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao plan to attend the meeting. The Chinese government in particular is playing up Hu’s scheduled speech as an “important address” that will lay out policies China is willing to undertake to combat climate change. Because China recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest carbon emitter, environmentalists will be watching closely.



When: Thursday

What: For the first time since the United Nations was created in 1945, a sitting U.S. president will chair a session of the Security Council. This is partly the result of a happy coincidence. The position of Security Council “president” is one that rotates between all 15 members on a monthly basis.

The United States just happens to hold the presidency during the month of September when world leaders descend on Turtle Bay.  Thursday’s meeting will focus on nonproliferation, but don’t expect a new round of sanctions on Iran or North Korea. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the meeting will focus on disarmament, nuclear trafficking, and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which is up for review next year.

The U.S. mission circulated a draft text of a four-page resolution last week spelling out specific ways the council can support the international non-proliferation regime. This included a paragraph stating that a country’s “right” to civilian nuclear technology is contingent on fulfilling other obligations to the non-proliferation treaty -- a clear reference to Iran.

We will probably have to wait until the morning of the meeting to find out the specific contours of the draft resolution -- or if a resolution will be voted on at all. Another likely outcome is a so-called “presidential statement,” which is a mechanism to offer a consensus view of the council without getting into the specifics of a resolution text.



When: Wednesday

What: Obama’s address to the United Nations this week won’t be his first, but it will certainly be his most-anticipated. The question for many U.N. watchers is how the president will frame the U.S.-U.N. relationship. In a speech in August, Susan Rice described the United Nations as an indispensable institution that advances American interests and the cause of universal rights. She further described how the United Nations is on the “front lines” of a new era of American engagement.

Needless to say, this is a significant departure from the attitude of the previous administration. The question, though, is how specific the president will get in elucidating how the U.N. does, as Rice said, “promote America’s core security interests.” For example, Rice has stated repeatedly that her top priority as ambassador is to bolster the United Nations’ overburdened and under-resourced peacekeeping operations. To that end, Obama will host a meeting for delegations from the U.N.’s top troop-contributing countries. Peacekeeping advocates will be watching to see how, if at all, the president uses this platform to communicate the value of peacekeeping to U.S. interests.



When: Thursday

What: For the first time since assuming control of Libya in a coup 40 years ago, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi will attend the U.N. summit in New York. Even prior to setting foot in Turtle Bay, Qaddafi’s trip has sucked up a quite a bit of media attention. His plans to pitch a Bedouin-style tent on Libyan-owned property across the river in Englewood, New Jersey, didn’t go over well with municipal authorities, who found pretext to deny him a permit.

And then, of course, there’s the hero’s welcome he gave to convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi upon his repatriation on Aug. 20 -- a spectacle that Susan Rice described as offending “virtually every American.” Qaddafi has also used the run-up to his U.N. trip to settle some old scores -- with Switzerland. Last year, Swiss authorities arrested his son and daughter-in-law for allegedly beating up a domestic servant. Qaddafi has responded in kind by circulating a nonsensical resolution to have the country abolished.  

Antics aside, Qaddafi has perfectly legitimate reasons to make 2009 his first trip to First Avenue. Veteran Libyan diplomat Ali Triki will serve as president of the 64th General Assembly, an annually elected position that rotates between the five geographical groups. He won the spot after receiving the backing of the Africa group on Sept. 15.  Libya also currently sits on the Security Council, which means that Qaddafi will be seated across the room from Obama during the Council’s non-proliferation meeting. Observers are waiting to see whether the mercurial leader will use his allotted five minutes to grandstand on topics beyond non-proliferation. Could he be this year’s Hugo Chávez?


Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

When: All week

What: For the first time since the official Chinese seat at the United Nations was restored to the People’s Republic of China in 1971, a Chinese president will be a near ubiquitous presence during U.N. week. Expect to see President Hu Jintao at the climate summit, the Security Council meeting on non-proliferation, the General Assembly, and later in the week at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. 

The question is, which China will show up? “If China addresses concerns about its trade imbalance with the United States and Europe, makes constructive compromises that would move the Doha round forward, or makes any numerical commitments to carbon reduction with a timeline,” explains Rand Corp. expert Scott Harold, “this would be a clear sign that China is ready to play a more substantial role in global governance.”

On the other hand, should Hu’s speeches show a preference for addressing issues surrounding terrorism (i.e., recent ethnic domestic disturbances in Xinjang) or “territorial integrity” (i.e. nationalist movements in Taiwan and Tibet), this optimism might be misplaced. Still, if the climate sentiments expressed by Chinese authorities prior to the meeting are any indication, September 2009 may be something of a coming-out party for Beijing.