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Trump renews his battle with U.N.

Trump renews his battle with U.N.


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((Washington Post illustration; iStock))

This week, about 120 world leaders and dignitaries will gather in New York for the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly. President Trump, as ever, will attract a great deal of attention — he’ll deliver the customary address to the assembly on Tuesday and chair a special session of the U.N. Security Council the following day.

Today’s WorldView will be on hand, reporting from New York for the rest of the week. Here’s an outline of some of the main story lines to track.

Trump and the world order: Last year, the president used his speech to trumpet his “America First” agenda. Before the diplomats and statesmen, he signaled the advent of a more nationalist and protectionist foreign policy that frequently cuts against the interests of the international community.

Since then, Trump and his lieutenants have steadily chipped away at the United Nations, withdrawing from bodies such as the U.N.’s Human Rights Council and UNESCO, its cultural agency. This month, the White House threatened the U.N.-mandated International Criminal Court with punitive measures usually reserved for tinpot dictators and rogue states.

Beyond allowing right-wing Washington to act on its long-standing grievances, Trump has thrown the prevailing international order for a spin over the past year. He has challenged the assumptions that once undergirded Western alliances, jettisoning the internationalist precepts once embraced by both Republican and Democratic administrations, and launched disruptive trade wars.

Trump’s speech is written by Stephen Miller, a White House adviser known for his hostility to both immigrants and international institutions such as the United Nations. The president’s hiring of John Bolton as national security adviser installed one of Washington’s most vociferous U.N. critics in the White House.

“It’s going to be the will of the American people, not the will of the international community,” said Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, as she previewed the president’s address last week.

But many foreign observers, including a good chunk of the world leaders who will be in New York this week, see not a principled stand but the reckless rhetoric of a hectoring bully.

“I don’t like to personalize things,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to reporters when asked whether Trump was a threat. But he still took a veiled shot: “In different areas and for different reasons, the trust of people in their political establishments, the trust of states among each other, the trust of many people in international organizations has been eroded.”

The shadows of Iran and North Korea: This week will illustrate the White House’s wildly divergent approaches to two long-standing geopolitical challenges.

Last year, Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” and mocked its leader, Kim Jong Un, as the “Rocket Man.” Kim’s regime fired back, dismissing the “evil dotard” in Washington. Today, after months of diplomacy and a high-profile Trump-Kim summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has extended an invitation to North Korea’s top diplomat for talks, and Trump is expected to praise Pyongyang for its efforts.

“If someone had told me last year that North Korea will stop nuclear tests, will stop missile tests and that they will release the remaining American prisoners and that they would be even considering dismantling [a key nuclear facility], I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Joseph Yun, a former State Department official, to reporters.

Iran is a different story. Trump is expected to push the argument that his unraveling of the nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions on Tehran — much to the ire of American allies and others in the international community — is working. The U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by Trump, which will supposedly address the broader issue of weapons of mass destruction, may feature Iran heavily.

“The message is going to be, ‘Our strategy is serious and we’re committed to it,’” said Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council to USA Today. “This meeting is a very important opportunity for this administration to signal that the worst pain is yet to come.”

Other countries will find their own ways to publicly and privately push back against the White House’s efforts. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a close Trump ally, will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. session.

“It’s being interpreted by analysts in Tokyo — correctly, I think — as a little bit defiant of President Trump; a little bit of a declaration or a statement that, like other world leaders, Abe is going to do his own thing, because Donald Trump is not helping him out the way he had hoped on North Korea and trade,” said Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to ABC.

The plights of the Rohingya and the Palestinians: Humanitarian concerns frequently get aired during General Assembly sessions, and this year will be no different.

Chief on the agenda will be the crisis facing more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crammed into squalid camps along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. A recent U.N. report suggested military officials in Myanmar could be guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes for their campaign of ethnic cleansing waged last year; Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to lead the call for greater international action in New York this week.

For the Palestinians, many of whom have been consigned to semi-permanent refugee camps for more than half a century, this week marks a potential fork in the road. The United Nations, and particularly the General Assembly, has been a historically sympathetic forum for the Palestinian cause. But the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — and then slash cuts to Palestinian institutions and the U.N. aid agency that supports millions of Palestinians — is forcing a new reckoning.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to urge world leaders to either come to the defense of his people and the two-state solution — or take responsibility for its burial.

Want smart analysis of the most important news in your inbox every weekday along with other global reads, interesting ideas and opinions to know? Sign up for the Today’s WorldView newsletter.


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