600 Meetings and a World of Conflict: What to Expect at the U.N. General Assembly


600 Meetings and a World of Conflict: What to Expect at the U.N. General Assembly

The annual United Nations General Assembly will unfold this week against a backdrop of crises — from the warming planet to economic uncertainty to flaring conflicts that threaten to further entangle the United States in the volatile Middle East.

Trade wars, migration, energy supplies, climate change and the eradication of poverty underpin the basic themes of the 193-member General Assembly agenda. But the actions of the Trump administration, which has sometimes expressed disdain for international institutions like the United Nations, have created a common denominator.

“All of the major topics that I think people will be talking about in the corridors are related to: What is U.S. policy?” said Jeffrey D. Feltman, a veteran American diplomat and former United Nations under secretary-general for political affairs.

Some leaders are not coming, notably Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu, the embattled prime minister of Israel. Also not expected is President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, regarded by the Trump administration and about 50 other governments as an illegitimate leader.

But one prominent figure, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, will attend. The Ukrainian leader plans to meet with Mr. Trump amid growing concerns that Mr. Trump had pressured him over American domestic political issues.

Some of the biggest moments and confrontations could happen early in the week. Here is what to expect:

President Trump, whose penchant for bombast, scaremongering and diplomatic bombshells are well known, will be surrounded by like-minded company on Tuesday when the speeches begin.

Mr. Trump will be preceded by President Jair M. Bolsonaro of Brazil, sometimes called the mini-Trump, a polarizing figure at home who, like Mr. Trump, dismisses fears about climate change and ridicules critics on Twitter.

Until recently, speculation abounded that Mr. Trump would make history by meeting with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. But the Sept. 14 attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, which American and Saudi officials blame on Iran, has made such a meeting unlikely at best.

American officials are expected to present what they have described as evidence that Iran carried out the attack with drones and cruise missiles. Iran has denied the accusation. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran in their fight against a Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing their country for more than four years, have claimed responsibility.

Mr. Rouhani speaks on Wednesday, and he will almost certainly assert that Mr. Trump ignited the cycle of conflict by withdrawing last year from the 2015 nuclear agreement with major powers and reimposing onerous sanctions that are crippling its economy.

The United States is trying to build a coalition to deter Iran, even if it is unclear what form such deterrence would take. The General Assembly gives the administration an opportunity to “continue to slow walk a military response in favor of more coalition-building and political and economic pressure,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The climate crisis is at the top of the General Assembly’s agenda. About 60 heads of state plan to speak at the Climate Action Summit on Monday, and officials aim to announce initiatives that include net-zero carbon emissions in buildings.

The United States has no such plans — Mr. Trump announced in 2017 that he was withdrawing the country from the Paris Agreement on climate change. But some state governors who have formed the United States Climate Alliance said they would attend the summit and meet with other delegations.

The push will focus on convincing the European Union to expand economic sanctions against Mr. Maduro’s loyalists, including freezing assets they have in Europe. The Europeans may also be pressed to penalize smugglers of Venezuelan gold into Europe.

Mr. Maduro, who claimed victory in disputed elections last fall, has retained power despite nine months of demands to resign by a stubborn opposition movement led by the president of Venezuela’s Parliament, Juan Guaidó. Negotiations between the Venezuelan rivals collapsed last week.


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