On a small piece of land in East Manhattan, leaders from around 200 countries gather in the world’s largest diplomatic event.
An annual meeting that unfolds within the premises of the United Nations General Assembly, addressing hot-button issues amid a plate of tensions, conflicts, and challenges.
Once they step onto the famous green marble podium, some personalities often wield microphones not fundamentally restricted to presenting their global views, knowing that cameras are rolling and the world is listening.
Throughout the years, the events of this meeting have not been devoid of surprises and bizarre scenes, some of which carry anger and humor.
One of the strangest scenes occurred in 1960 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev objected to statements made by a delegate from the Philippines regarding Soviet policies in Eastern Europe.
At that moment, the Communist warrior, not accustomed to public criticism, pounded the table with his fists.
When the Philippine delegate did not relent, he went even further by taking off his shoe and banging it on the table instead.
This famous incident sparked several possible interpretations over the years, including that he took off his shoe because it was too tight, or it slipped off when a journalist stepped on it. It was even said that Khrushchev himself found amusement in the act.
Chávez and “The Devil”
In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was among the few world leaders who came close to matching the epic level demonstrated by Khrushchev in ridiculing his rival.
The socialist leader, a vocal opponent of the United States, compared then-US President George W. Bush to none other than the devil.
In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly the day after Bush’s address, Chávez stated, “The devil came here yesterday.”
He crossed himself, clasped his hands briefly as if in prayer, and looked upward, saying, “It smells of sulfur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman whom I refer to as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world.”
Chávez’s speech elicited laughter from the audience at the time.
But there was more laughter in the General Assembly in 2018, and this time, it was the speaker who felt uncomfortable: former US President Donald Trump.
In his second address to the General Assembly since becoming president, Trump entered a bout of self-praise, only to find a less sympathetic audience and laughter echoing throughout the hall.
At that moment, the billionaire appeared to lose his balance for a moment, then paused briefly and smiled awkwardly, saying, “I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.”
Later, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, mentioned that the delegates “were genuinely pleased with him.”
Accommodations can be a challenge for visiting dignitaries to New York City, the bustling city that never sleeps.
In 2009, the late Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi created some drama while trying to find a location for his famous tent in New York.
Gaddafi liked to set up a Bedouin-style tent and receive his guests there in traditional fashion, which he did during visits to Paris, Moscow, and Rome.
However, in New York, his initial requests to set up in Central Park in Manhattan and a location in New Jersey were both denied. He then planned to stay at Donald Trump’s property in Bedford, a suburb 80 miles north of the city.
Netanyahu’s Cartoon Bomb
One of the most unforgettable moments also included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu using a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb and a red marker to symbolize the nuclear threat posed by Iran.
Technically, all speakers are given 15 minutes to address the General Assembly, but this rule doesn’t apply to everyone.
After 4 hours and 29 minutes, Fidel Castro’s first speech at the General Assembly became the longest ever.
Yasser Arafat’s Rifle
In 1974, the Palestine Liberation Organization was declared the official representative of the Palestinian people, and Yasser Arafat was granted the honor of addressing the General Assembly as the first representative of a non-governmental organization.
But his appearance became unforgettable as he took to the podium holding both a gun and an olive branch, saying, “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun; do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”
Later, it was said that Yasser Arafat removed the gun before taking the stage.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been in office for less than a year when she made history multiple times.
She became the world’s youngest female head of state when she was elected in 2017 and was the second elected female leader to give birth while in office.
In the 2018 United Nations General Assembly meetings, Ardern added another record to her list. She not only delivered her first speech at the General Assembly but also brought her infant daughter, making her the first head of state to bring her newborn to the high-level annual summit.
After playing with her daughter Neve Te Aroha, Ardern handed her over to her partner Clarke Gayford while delivering a speech at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit.