What we’re watching at this year’s UN General Assembly

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

When the 193-member United Nations convenes this week for the annual General Assembly speeches and high-level meetings, world leaders will be paying closest attention to the words and gestures of the most unconventional - and powerful - leader among them.

What President Trump says, whom he may offend, please or surprise and how other international leaders react at the world’s largest diplomatic gathering are topics that are likely to dominate the chatter at the United Nations, which, in its 72nd year, is barely older than Mr. Trump.

Here are five issues to watch:

The Trump effect

While this will be Mr. Trump’s first visit to the United Nations as president, he has castigated the organization as an elitist “club” and proposed what amount to drastic cuts in voluntary contributions from the United States, the single-biggest donor.

Mr. Trump has taken issue with what much of the world regards as one of the most significant achievements at the United Nations, the Paris climate accord to curb greenhouse gases and arrest global warming. His administration also has objected to other positions advocated by the United Nations: protecting the rights of refugees and migrants; the Iran nuclear agreement; and a new treaty that many members are expected to sign on Wednesday that would outlaw all nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s continued defiance

By now, North Korea’s defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning its tests of ballistic missiles and atomic bombs has become almost routine. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, launched a missile on Friday that flew longer than any others previously tested - just four days after the most recent raft of sanctions was adopted and just as General Assembly preparations were getting underway.

What will he do when world leaders converge in New York? (Mr. Kim is not coming.) Mr. Trump, who has vowed a “fire and fury” response if North Korea threatens the United States, is expected to make North Korea a major theme in his General Assembly speech. Whether he will engage in what critics have described as rash talk remains unclear.

Addressing atrocities in Myanmar

Mr. Guterres and his top human rights official have both described the killings and persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. With nearly a half-million Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh and daily evidence of atrocities in Myanmar, what will world leaders say? Will the Security Council, which is empowered to do something to halt the killings, maintain its conspicuously mild response despite increased pressure to act quickly?

China, Myanmar’s main patron, is reluctant to issue any statement calling for an end to military operations. On Monday, Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is scheduled to lead a meeting of foreign ministers on Myanmar.

Tensions around the Iran nuclear deal

Mr. Trump and his ambassador, Ms. Haley, have both sought to vilify Iran as a sponsor of terrorism and have suggested that the United States may abandon the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration and five other major powers that limited Iran’s nuclear activities. So far Mr. Trump — who is expected to make Iran another theme of his General Assembly speech — has grudgingly accepted the nuclear agreement despite having described it as one of the worst ever negotiated.

Will he go forward with threats to repudiate it and risk isolation? Western diplomats have expressed worry about the administration’s hostility to the accord, saying that it could create more nuclear uncertainty at a time when the world is trying to deal with North Korea.

A meeting of the parties that negotiated the deal with Iran — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — will take place on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday. But there is no expectation that Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, will meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Nor is there is any expectation of direct communication between Mr. Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who is expected to give a news conference on Wednesday.

Global warming and the Paris climate deal

The General Assembly is taking place against a backdrop of apocalyptic droughts, floods and hurricanes, including two that have ravaged parts of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean in the past few weeks. What will world leaders say about these disasters and the Paris climate deal? Will the Trump administration be swayed to rethink its decision to withdraw?

The New York Times

“Will the Security Council, which is empowered to do something to halt the killings, maintain its conspicuously mild response despite increased pressure to act quickly?”
The Point