What to Watch at the U.N. General Assembly

From a Wall Street Journal story by William Mauldin headlined “What to Watch at the U.N. General Assembly”:

World leaders are gathering in New York this week to take part in the United Nations General Assembly’s “high-level week,” the year’s biggest conclave of heads of state, government leaders and diplomats.

President Biden is attending, as is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who appeared only virtually last year. Leaders of some other powers aren’t coming and won’t be speaking at the iconic lectern backed by green serpentinite stone.

From climate change to the war in Ukraine, here is what we are following:

Key meetings for Biden

Biden is set to speak Tuesday on using American leadership to solve the world’s problems, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who didn’t enumerate the problems.

On Wednesday, Biden will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since the Israeli politician returned to power nine months ago. The two are likely to discuss their joint goals of an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal and efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Another topic is the continuing efforts by Netanyahu’s government to overhaul his country’s judicial system, a campaign that Biden has called divisive. Also Wednesday, Biden meets Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

On the sidelines of the General Assembly, Biden will join the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in the first summit of a relatively new group known as the C5+1, Sullivan said. Some of those post-Soviet countries have sought to diversify their diplomatic and economic partnerships in the face of Russia’s regional aggression and China’s crackdown on its Muslim minority.

Biden will meet Zelensky on Thursday in Washington, where the Ukrainian president is expected to ask for additional aid for his war-torn country and more steps to isolate Moscow.

No-shows from leading nations

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping aren’t expected to attend. Putin hasn’t attended the gathering in years and will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. China’s leading foreign-policy official, Wang Yi, was initially expected to attend, but Beijing will be represented by Vice President Han Zheng, a little-known figure on the international stage.

Also absent will be U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, officials say. Those and others from the Group of 20 leading economies already met this month in New Delhi.

European Union leaders are attending in force, led by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

War in Ukraine

Russia’s war against Ukraine will be on the agenda through the week, including debate over how to end the conflict and discussion of the war’s impact on grain markets and food security.

Sullivan said the U.S. had “built a strong engagement in dialogue with the Global South on what ultimately a just peace looks like.”

The U.N. Security Council is set to meet on Ukraine on Wednesday under the gavel of Albania, the monthly president.

So far, the Security Council has been powerless to enact resolutions on the war because of the veto of Russia, a permanent member. The broader General Assembly is unlikely to take up another resolution on the war next week.

In February, the General Assembly marked the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with an overwhelming vote to condemn it. China and India were among 32 nations that abstained.

Instead of courting votes against Russia, U.S. officials appear to be switching gears and focusing on how Washington and its allies are better-equipped to tackle the problems of developing economies than are Russia and China.

“First, we will work to strengthen partnerships—including with countries we sometimes disagree with,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.


Iran President Ebrahim Raisi is set to speak Tuesday in New York, and opponents of the Islamic regime have said they would protest.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have eased with the impending release of five American detainees and Tehran’s move to slow the pace at which it is building up its stores of near weapons-grade enriched uranium.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has sent combat aircraft, ships and Marines to the Persian Gulf to dissuade Iranian forces from trying to seize oil tankers in the region.

The big question is whether Iran and European officials will decide to resume diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program that hasn’t taken place for over a year. Meetings between European and Iranian officials are expected to occur on the sidelines of the formal U.N. meetings, but new obstacles have surfaced.

On Saturday, the head of the U.N. atomic agency took the rare step of issuing a public statement rebuking Tehran for withdrawing approval for a number of experienced agency inspectors to carry out their work in Iran. U.S. and European officials have called on Iran to cooperate with the U.N. atomic agency’s work as part of efforts to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

Climate change

The U.N. high-level gathering coincides with a series of events known as Climate Week NYC, sponsored by Climate Group, a London-based organization that seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The September U.N. gathering often serves as a warm-up for an annual fall climate-change conference, this year held in the United Arab Emirates, a top oil producer.

The U.N. on Monday and Tuesday is hosting a summit of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, which include ending poverty by 2030, taking action against climate change and improving access to clean water.

Meanwhile, countries’ representatives will have the chance to sign a June agreement aimed at conserving marine diversity in areas of the oceans outside of coastal countries’ jurisdiction. The agreement, part of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, will enter into force if signed and ratified by 60 countries. The U.S. hasn’t ratified the Law of the Sea.

Dov Lieber and Michael R. Gordon contributed to this article.

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