UNITED NATIONS — World leaders converged on United Nations on Monday where they kicked off their annual gathering by honoring a global icon of peace and reconciliation even as attention zeroed in on the U.S. president who has shaken up the international order.
A statue of Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa’s transition from apartheid system of white minority rule over the majority black population, was unveiled at the U.N. headquarters in New York, and delegates addressed a “peace summit” to elevate his memory in this year’s centennial of his birth.
“Few people in the history of our world have left such an incredible mark on humanity,” U.N. General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces said at the dedication ceremony of the life-size sculpture of the prisoner-turned-president.
Just minutes later, President Donald Trump made a brief appearance at a separate event at the world body on fighting the global scourge of illegal drugs, where some 130 U.N. member states signed a U.S.-sponsored declaration to step up action against the narcotics trade.
“Today we commit to fighting the drug epidemic together,” said Trump, whose administration is facing a rising tide of opioid addiction in the United States.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the global drug problem “alarming,” with some 31 million people around the world requiring treatment and some 450,000 deaths every year from overdoses or drug-related health issues.
Trump is making his second appearance at the U.N. General Assembly’s opening session since taking office in January 2017 with an “America First” agenda that has clashed with multilateral cooperation on everything from fighting climate change to containing Iran’s nuclear program.
But he offered some conciliatory remarks Monday about the world body he has often disparaged.
“I’ve always said the United Nations has tremendous potential and that potential is being met slowly but surely it’s being met,” he said, alongside Guterres.
Trump will address the General Assembly on Tuesday, when heads of government begin taking turns in addressing that forum on pressing global issues. The U.S. president has so far struck a far less ominous tone on than he did at his debut appearance at the U.N. year ago, when he derided North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it used its nuclear weapons against the U.S or its allies.
Trump announced Monday he will likely hold a second summit with Kim “quite soon,” to seek progress in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that he and Kim committed two at a summit in Singapore in June.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz contributed to his report.
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