The presidents of Brazil and Argentina, both women, woke up any drowsy General Assembly delegate, passionately arguing their country's policy from economics to Syria to Cuba to Iran.
But President Obama grabbed the attention, not because he broke new ground but because he is... well... Obama, who knows how to deliver a speech before rushing out of U.N. headquarters to continue campaigning. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was here, there and everywhere in bilateral meetings and even a session on clean water and sanitation. (There are about 50 side events during the annual General Assembly parade of world leaders this week.)
Obama spoke about Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in Libya, and said it was time to put an end to violence and intolerance. The attack in Libya, one of several on U.S. diplomatic missions in Muslim nations, was sparked by a video made in California that denigrated the Prophet Mohammad.
While calling the video "crude and disgusting" Obama said the "strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech - the voice of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy."
"Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so."
Not so fast, say Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari answered quickly: "Although we can never condone violence, the international community .... should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression."
Indonesian Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of the world's most-populous Muslim-majority nation, called for a binding international treaty to "prevent incitement to hostility or violence based on religions or beliefs."
And Afghan President Hamid Karzai said such insults "can never be justified as freedom of speech or expression." But he said that "equally they cannot give reason for the genuine protest to be used to incite violence."
November, November, November
French President François Hollande said he thought leaders understood that Obama was in "full campaign" mode and could not meet a lot of dignitaries. Asked his preference, he said, "You can imagine what difficulty it would cause either candidate to be supported by a French Socialist!" But then he imagined there would be plenty of time to meet Obama after November.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, one of the few leaders to give a relatively short and pointed speech, said there "may be a rare window of opportunity" after the U.S. election to achieve a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
The Latina presidents
Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Cristina Fernández of Argentina both blamed the 2008 economic crises, the orthodox fiscal policies and the repercussions for emerging countries. Rousseff said that history showed that exaggerated austerity, isolated from growth is self-defeating. She blamed the Syrian government for most of the violence but said armed opposition groups were not blameless. Both presidents said it was time for Washington to end the Cuban embargo.
"For many, we women are 'half the sky.' But we want to be half of the earth as well," Rousseff said.
Fernández, speaking without a text well over her allotted time, said her country and Iran had agreed to a meeting at the United Nations to discuss two attacks in the 1990s on Jewish targets in Buenos Aires, one of which resulted in 85 deaths. Iran has denied responsibility but now agreed to talk about it on the sidelines of the General Assembly. "Families of the victims need to understand what happened and who is responsible," she said.
As expected Syria, where over 25,000 people have died in a civil war, was mentioned in nearly every speech. The Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said Arab countries should intervene militarily ... in order to guarantee a peaceful transition of power in Syria." Qatar has been cited for sending arms to some rebel groups.
France's Hollande said the international community had to provide protection to areas controlled by rebels. But there is little sign the United States was about to intervene militarily in another Middle East nation.
Said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "There is no statute of limitations for such extreme violence."
He also sounded alarm bells at another possible war in the Middle East, this time against Iran for its nuclear program, saying that the "shrill war talk" by Israel was "alarming" and that Iran's rhetoric was unacceptable.
"I reject both the language of delegitimization and threats of potential military action by one state against another," Ban said.
And what else, big and small, was interesting to observe: the usually confident Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov fiddling with his mobile and apparently wondering when he could get his next cigarette; Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan never taking off his hat; UNESCO leader Irina Bokova organizing a profound meeting on culture and education.
Xanana Gusmão, prime minister and guerrilla leader of East Timor's fight against Indonesia, closed Tuesday's session close to 10 p.m., saying he had walked the corridors of the U.N. for 38 years before achieving independence.