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8 reasons why the U.N. General Assembly matters

WASHINGTON – The annual U.N. General Assembly, in New York, is usually a pretty formulaic affair. Heads of state run through some diplomatic boilerplate, a few delegations might walk out in protest, and, at best, there might be an hourlong rant from a colorful dictator. But this year’s General Assembly is shaping up to be different.

Here are eight reasons why:

•1. Obama reaches out to Iran President Obama has a historic opportunity to finally realize his dream of detente with Iran, now that Iranians have elected the peace-espousing, moderate Hassan Rouhani as president. But Obama also has to be mindful of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed deep skepticism of Rouhani’s gestures, which he views as a ploy to buy time for uranium enrichment.

2. Rouhani offers new ‘face of Iran’ One signal that Iranian voters sent in electing Rouhani, as Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has written, is that they are sick of Iran’s international isolation and poor reputation. Rouhani has signaled that the days of predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hard-line foreign policy and anti-Western rhetoric are over.

•3. Will Obama and Rouhani meet? – Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Still, U.S. secretaries of state and Iranian foreign ministers have met before. What would be truly historic is having the nations’ two presidents come together – a first in the Islamic republic’s 34-year-old history.

•4. Netanyahu cautions against Iran outreach At last year’s General Assembly, the Israeli prime minister held up a drawing of a cartoon bomb with a big red line through it – a somewhat crude but attention-grabbing way of arguing to the world that Iran had crossed a “red line” in its nuclear program. His speech this year is expected to focus squarely, if perhaps only implicitly, on talking the United States out of softening its stance toward Tehran.

•5. Everyone makes their case on how to handle SyriaAnticipate heads of state to issue passionate and highly conflicting appeals on how to end the Syrian crisis.

•6. Russia’s dilemma Moscow continues to maintain that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria was carried out by Western-backed rebels – despite a recent U.N. report that did not formally assign blame but heavily implicated the Assad regime.

•7. This year’s party crasher Sudan’s president – Omar Hassan al-Bashir – is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, including genocide.

So it was a surprise this year when Bashir requested a visa from the United States to come to New York for the General Assembly. It’s unclear if he will be allowed in.

•8. Brazil and others may knock the United States for NSA spyingBrazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is to open the General Assembly on Tuesday, made international headlines last week when she canceled a state dinner with Obama over the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying on Brazil.