WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden faces a number of difficult issues as he travels to New York this week for the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
The Russian War in Ukraine is at a critical point. Europeans fear a recession could be increased just around the corner. The government’s concerns are growing as time is running out to revive the Iran nuclear deal and China’s saber-rattling on Taiwan.
Speaking at the General Assembly last year, Biden focused on broad issues of global partnership and urged world leaders to act with urgency on the coronavirus, climate change and human rights abuses. And he asserted that his presidency marks a return by American leadership to international institutions after Donald Trump’s America First-driven foreign policy.
But a year later, the global dynamic has changed dramatically.
Stewart Patrick, senior fellow and director of the Global Order and Institutions Program at the Washington think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an analysis that Biden’s task this year is “immense” compared to his first address to the UN as President.
“Last year, the US leader won light praise as ‘anti-Trump’ and vowed ‘America is back,'” Patrick said. “This year demands more. The liberal, rules-based international system reels, riddled with Russian aggression, Chinese ambitions, authoritarian attacks, a faltering pandemic recovery, accelerating climate change, skepticism about the relevance of the UN, and nagging doubts about American endurance.”
During a crowded visit to New York for the 77th Biden will address world leaders and meet with new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and spur allies to do their part to help the UN meet a goal of $18 billion to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He will also host heads of state at a reception and plans to make a significant announcement on global food security.
Beyond diplomacy, the president is scheduled to conduct two political fundraisers. This year’s meeting comes less than eight weeks before the crucial midterm elections in the United States.
His speech on Wednesday is expected to focus heavily on Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have regained control of large areas in recent weeks near Kharkiv, seized by Russian forces at the start of the nearly 7-month-old war.
But even as Ukrainian forces have notched up victories on the battlefield, much of Europe is feeling a painful backlash from economic sanctions imposed on Russia to punish Moscow for its invasion. A sharp drop in Russian oil and gas consumption has led to a sharp rise in energy prices, skyrocketing inflation and a growing risk of Europe slipping into recession.
“The main direction of his presentation regarding Ukraine will really relate to the United Nations Charter, to the fundamental principle at the heart of that charter that countries cannot conquer their neighbors by force. cannot seize and acquire territory by force,” said White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan of Biden’s plans for his address to world leaders.
Carrie Filipetti, executive director of the Vandenberg Coalition, a conservative foreign policy group, said it’s important that Biden make a cogent argument to allies — and to U.S. lawmakers, who will be watching his speech closely — that the investment they’re collectively making in weaponry have made Ukraine and the pain the European economy is suffering will ultimately pay off.
“He should try to coerce and demonstrate how … American support and Allied support have been instrumental in bringing about this kind of renewed wave of success for the Ukrainians, but that it is very dependent on this not just coming from the United States , but I think mostly from European partners,” said Filipetti, who served as senior policy adviser for the US mission to the United Nations during the Trump administration.
Concern is also growing in the White House that Russian President Vladimir Putin could further escalate the conflict following the recent setbacks.
Biden warned Putin in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that using nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine would result in a “consistent” response from the United States. The government first warned in March, just weeks after the war began, that Russia could attempt to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t do it,” Biden warned. “It would change the face of war like nothing since World War II.”
Biden’s visit to the United Nations also comes as his administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran appear to have stalled.
The deal brokered by the Obama administration — and scrapped by Trump in 2018 — brought billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s agreement to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to full international inspections.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who will also address the UN Assembly this week, told 60 Minutes that Tehran would not make any concessions to reach an agreement.
“The new administration in the US claims that it is different from the Trump administration,” Raisi said. “They said so in their messages to us. But we haven’t seen any changes.”
Sullivan said no breakthrough with Iran is expected during the general assembly. At the same time, Republicans, some Democrats and Israeli officials are urging the government to abandon the nuclear deal.
Sullivan said Biden will make it clear in his speech that an agreement is still possible “if Iran is willing to take its commitments seriously.” He added that administration officials would consult with other signatories to the 2015 accord on the sidelines of this week’s meeting.
“I think our allies will be curious to see if the president wants to change course?” said Richard Goldberg, senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focused on foreign policy and national security. “Does he want to go back to some sort of print trail, restore a multilateral print campaign?”
This year’s UN meeting is again a full face-to-face event after two years of restricted activities due to the pandemic. In 2020, the face-to-face meeting was canceled and the leaders gave recorded speeches instead; last year was a mix of in-person and recorded speeches.
While China’s Xi Jinping will not be present, his country’s conduct and intentions will play a major role during the leaders’ talks.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Office raised concerns about possible “crimes against humanity.” in the western region of China against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. Beijing has vowed to suspend cooperation with the bureau and blasted what it called a Western conspiracy to undermine China’s rise.
Meanwhile, China’s government on Monday said Biden’s testimony in the “60 Minutes” interview that American forces would defend Taiwan if Beijing tried to invade the self-governing island, it was a breach of US obligations on the matter, but there was no hint of possible retaliatory action.
The White House said after the interview that US policy towards Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has not changed. This policy states that Washington wants to see a peaceful resolution to Taiwan’s status, but does not say whether US forces could be deployed in response to a Chinese attack.
Tensions between the US and China over Taiwan have increased since Speaker of the Democratic House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last month, becoming the highest-ranking US official to travel to the island since House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997.
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