UNITED NATIONS: Israeli and Palestinian leaders will address the United Nations on Thursday, one warning of a dire threat from Iran and the other seeking limited recognition in the absence of a peace process.
On a more optimistic note, the U.N. General Assembly will also hear from Myanmar leader Thein Sein, who has presided over historic reforms after decades of military rule, leading to rapidly thawing relations with the West.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would keep the attention of the annual assembly trained on the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which Israel views as an existential threat that could soon require military action.
"I will reiterate that the most dangerous country in the world must not be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world," Netanyahu said Sunday, further stoking speculation about a possible pre-emptive strike.
World powers take the threat seriously and fear any new conflict would further destabilize the already volatile Middle East and sputtering global economy, and many leaders called this week for a diplomatic solution.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York on his final visit as president, meanwhile dismissed the threat posed by "uncultured Zionists." Iran has long insisted its uranium enrichment program is entirely peaceful.
In his own U.N. address on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad defiantly accused the Western powers and Israel -- the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East -- of using "nuclear intimidation" to browbeat his nation.
But U.S. President Barack Obama has also refused to take the military option off the table, and told the General Assembly on Tuesday that Washington "will do what we must" to prevent Iran from getting an atomic weapon.
Meanwhile, president Mahmud Abbas, a year after making an historic appeal for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in the absence of peace talks that last collapsed in 2010, is expected to return to the assembly with a more modest goal.
Abbas wants to see Palestine recognized as a non-state member with pre-1967 borders encompassing the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
"We want Palestine back on the map, on the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital, carried by 150 to 170 nations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told journalists last week.
The Palestinians see this as the basis for border negotiations with Israel on a permanent solution to their conflict, but Israel and the United States oppose any recognition before the terms of a final deal are agreed.
The Palestinian leadership was formerly opposed to non-state membership, seeing this as a distraction and possible dead end, but their political clout has only diminished in the year since their initial bid.
Enhanced observer status would at least give them access to more agencies, such as the World Health Organization or International Criminal Court.
If it were to come to a vote, the Palestinians would probably win a majority of U.N. members, but they have reportedly promised Washington not to push the issue too hard until after the November 6 U.S. presidential election.
A State Department official confirmed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had met Abbas late Wednesday in a New York hotel on the eve of his speech.
"We have made very clear that our goal is to resume direct talks and that the idea of going to the U.N. is not the road that takes there," the official said.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has had a more successful trip to the United States, which began lifting the last of its sanctions in recognition of the unprecedented reforms in the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma.
Clinton hailed Thein Sein's efforts during a meeting with him on Wednesday and announced the lifting of a ban on imports.
"We have watched as you and your government have continued the steady process of reform and we have been pleased to respond with specific steps which recognize the government's efforts and encourage further reform," she said.
The move, which will have to be carried out in conjunction with Congress, came just over a week after democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi started a historic visit to the United States by calling for an end to sanctions.
The pace of reform, including the government's decision to welcome the Nobel laureate and her party into mainstream politics and the release of hundreds of jailed dissidents, has led to a rapid improvement in relations with the West.