What to watch in Trump's first UN General Assembly

 abc.net.au  9/17/2017 12:26:13 AM 

Posted September 17, 2017 10:26:13

Facing an escalating nuclear threat from North Korea and the mass flight of minority Muslims from Myanmar, world leaders will gather this week at the United Nations starting to tackle these and other tough challenges — from the spread of terrorism to a warming planet.

The spotlight will be on US President Donald Trump and France's new leader, Emmanuel Macron, who will both be making their first appearance at the General Assembly, which begins tomorrow.

They will be joined by more than 100 heads of state and Government, including Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders who is said to be bringing a 70-member entourage.

These are the key issues to follow during the UN General Assembly, in no particular order:

1. North Korea

While Mr Trump's speeches and meetings will be closely followed, it will be North Korea, which Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls "the most dangerous crisis that we face today", that will be most carefully watched.

No official event addressing Pyongyang's relentless campaign to develop nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States is on the UN agenda, but it is expected to be the number one issue for most leaders.

This week after an emergency meeting, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

The new sanctions include a ban on all textile exports and prohibits all countries from authorising new work permits for North Korean workers.

2. Myanmar

Not far behind will be the plight of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, victims of what Mr Guterres calls a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has driven nearly 400,000 to flee to Bangladesh in the past three weeks.

The Security Council, in its first statement on Myanmar in nine years, condemned the violence and called for immediate steps to end it.

Myanmar's national leader Aung San Suu Kyi has cancelled her trip to the General Assembly due to the crisis.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is hosting a closed meeting on the crisis Monday (local time), and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's contact group on the Rohingyas is scheduled to meet Tuesday (local time).

3. Extreme weather events

Mr Guterres said leaders would also be focusing on a third major threat — climate change. The number of natural disasters has nearly quadrupled and he pointed to unprecedented weather events in recent weeks from Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sierra Leone.

While Mr Trump has announced that the United States will pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Mr Macron will be hosting a meeting Tuesday to spur its implementation.

And a late addition to the hundreds of official meetings and side events during the ministerial week is a high-level session tomorrow on the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

4. Global terror threat

Several terrorism-related events are on the agenda.

Mr Macron will meet with leaders of five African nations — Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad — that are putting together a 5,000-strong force to fight the growing threat from extremists in the vast Sahel region.

A side event titled Preventing Terrorist Use of the Internet will be attended by senior representatives of major social media companies.

Co-hosts Britain, France and Italy said a global response is needed "to make the online space a hostile environment for terrorists".

Mr Trump has accused Iran of supporting terrorists and is threatening to rip up the 2015 deal to rein in its nuclear program.

With a US decision due in October, ministers from the six parties to the agreement are expected to meet next week. The five others strongly support the deal.

5. UN management reform

Mr Trump has also been critical of the United Nations and has promised to cut the US contribution to its budget, which is the largest. So some diplomats were surprised that the United States would sponsor an event Monday on reforming the 193-member world body.

Mr Trump and Mr Guterres will speak, and the United States has asked all countries to sign a declaration on UN reforms.

Over 100 have added their names, but Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Friday that "we are not sure we will sign this declaration".

He said that while "lots of ideas contained in this document are important and look similar to what the secretary-general proposes," UN reforms should result from negotiations among all countries instead of from "a declaration of like-minded countries".

6. Peacekeeping operations

The Security Council is holding a high-level meeting Wednesday on UN peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $US8 billion a year.

The United States, which pays over 28 per cent of the peacekeeping budget, is reviewing all the missions in an effort to cut costs and make them more effective.

While there are many side events on other global hotspots from Central African Republic and South Sudan to Libya, Mail and Somalia, the ministerial meeting will also see sessions on achieving UN goals for 2030 to end extreme poverty and preserve the planet, women's economic empowerment, migration and conflict prevention — a top priority of the secretary-general.

7. Improving international relations

Germany's UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the most important thing about the General Assembly ministerial session, which officially begins Tuesday and ends September 25, is the opportunity for leaders to talk one-on-one or get together in groups.

"I think this is indeed the Super Bowl," he said.

"If it didn't exist, one had to create this opportunity so that can people can talk to each other."

General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak reminded member states that even representatives of countries "with profound disagreements on fundamental issues will sit side-by-side".

He suggested a simple rule: "Treat every speaker on this podium as if he or she is our own head of delegation.

"As long as we can use these meeting rooms to talk and reach compromises in good will, then we all have the collective opportunity to use the UN to make the world a better, and more peaceful place," Mr Lajcak said.

"If we don't do this, the failure will lie with us — not the UN"

AP

Topics: world-politics, government-and-politics, foreign-affairs, united-states

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