Spat with Israel lurks in new UN president’s past

Danish politician Mogens Lykketoft, incoming General Assembly chief, met Palestinian officials but not Israelis during trip last year, slammed Ariel Sharon as brutal

Mogens Lykketoft (Jose Antonio/Wikimedia Commons/File)
Mogens Lykketoft (Jose Antonio/Wikimedia Commons/File)

Denmark’s former parliament speaker Mogens Lykketoft, who was voted in Monday by the United Nations General Assembly as president of its 70th anniversary session, has been criticized by Jerusalem in the past for meeting Palestinian officials on a visit to the region but not Israeli officials.

Lykketoft, who also served as Denmark’s foreign minister and finance minister, downplayed the February 2014 spat with the Jewish state at the time, saying he didn’t meet the Israelis because of scheduling conflicts.

According to a Channel 10 report in February, Lykketoft asked to meet then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, but the Israeli lawmaker replied he would not be able to meet Lykketoft because of prior engagements. Lykketoft did not reply and proceeded to plan the visit without including any meetings in Israel.

In an interview last year with the Jydske Vestkysten daily, Lykketoft said Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who had then just passed away, was “a brutal military leader who was not interested in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.”

Lykketoft, who will start his year-long presidency in September, recently said he wants leaders gathering for the anniversary in late September to “focus on the road ahead for peace, security and human rights.”

His top priorities at the anniversary session will be to ensure that world leaders “join hands” to eradicate extreme poverty, keep climate change at bay, and promote economic growth.

The current assembly president, Sam Kutesa of Uganda, announced Lykketoft’s election by acclamation on Monday as diplomats from the UN’s 193 member states burst into applause.

While great progress has been made since the United Nations was founded in San Francisco in 1945, Lykketoft said the world today is suffering from armed conflicts, terrorism, violent extremism, nuclear proliferation and an increasing risk of new tensions among major powers.

Lykketoft urged all countries and their leaders “to strive to build a more fair and stable world,” stressing that “the 92 wealthiest dollar-billionaires own more than the poorest half of humanity.”

The largely ceremonial but prestigious job of president rotates annually by region. Lykketoft was the unanimous choice of European and other Western nations.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this anniversary year offers Lykketoft “an extraordinary opportunity to shape history.”

The goals set by world leaders in 2000 to combat global poverty reach their target at the end of the year, Ban said, and world leaders will hold a special summit in September just before the annual General Assembly ministerial meeting to adopt new goals to further reduce poverty, promote economic development, and tackle the roots of climate change.

Lykketoft, is known as a skilled negotiator but has been criticized for lacking charisma. Danish media have portrayed him as a shrewdly calculating politician, an image he rejects.

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