As the UN turns: Relationships to watch as world leaders gather

A number of high-profile world leaders are expected to miss this year’s event, including those from France, Britain, Russia and China. Still, there are many interesting dynamics to observe among the heads of state, diplomats, business and NGO leaders, and even a royal or two, who show up.

Participants are expected to include Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Here are some of the relationships to watch in New York this week:

Biden and his Middle East counterparts

The U.N. offers Biden an ideal venue to show that, despite his efforts to shift U.S. attention to China, he is not abandoning another key region.

So far, Biden’s agenda presented by the White House does not include many bilateral meetings with Middle East leaders. But he could still meet some, like Turkey’s Erdogan and the leader of Qatar, in less formal settings like receptions.

A potential subject? A grand peace deal that the Biden team is advocating and which includes the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Biden is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York. This is actually a disappointment for Netanyahu, who wants to be invited by the White House.

But Biden is wary of the Netanyahu-led government’s efforts to reform Israel’s justice system, which many Israelis denounce as undemocratic. He does not appear willing to ask the Israeli leader to visit Washington at this time.

At the G20 summit this month, Biden shook hands with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the latest indication that the de facto Saudi leader is back in America’s good graces despite his human rights abuses man. (It is unclear whether the crown prince will be in New York.)

Biden’s action in the Middle East comes as China presents itself as a potential peacemaker for the region. Beijing has already pushed for diplomatic rapprochement between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia and has even suggested it could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Also at the G20, Biden helped unveil a major infrastructure initiative linking India, the Middle East and Europe. Also expect a lot of discussion about this project in New York.

The Russian Foreign Minister and the countries that will not take sides

Zelensky plans an in-person charm offensive at this year’s gathering. He is seeking to meet as many people as possible with leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa, aiming to convince those countries to side with Ukraine against Russia.

Russia’s response could depend on which diplomats are willing to meet with the Russian representative, likely Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

There is a good chance that Lavrov will also try to organize many such meetings, at least to ensure that some nations remain neutral.

Last year, Lavrov did not have a very busy schedule, as U.S. officials noted. But Zelenskyy was not present in person last year.

World leaders who meet with Ukraine’s president this year may feel obligated to see Lavrov as well, if they want to avoid taking sides.

Washington and African states affected by the coup

As U.S. officials mingle with their foreign counterparts, the odds are unusually high that they will clash with an African coup plotter.

A series of military takeovers have rocked the continent, with Niger and Gabon falling victim in recent months alone.

Whether a junta can send a representative to the General Assembly depends on everything from the decisions of a U.N. credentials committee to the declared loyalty of the country’s current delegation to the UN.

The Taliban, for example, have not yet been recognized by the UN as the government of Afghanistan. But last year, a Malian “prime minister” appointed by a junta that had toppled the country’s democratic government gave a speech at the annual gathering.

It is not clear who will speak on behalf of Gabon or Niger at this year’s event.

U.S. officials do not appear to have a single standard approach to how to interact with countries affected by the coup in New York.

Their thinking is complicated by the American refusal so far to admit that Gabon or Niger have suffered coups. (This puts military and economic aid at risk, and the Biden administration insists the situations are fluid.)

To top it off, Gabon is currently a member of the UN Security Council, which means the United States might need its vote from time to time.

“I assume that (the United States) will approach diplomatic engagements with great flexibility, only holding meetings with the coup plotters where there is an opportunity to advance the agenda,” said Peter Yeo, a senior official. of the United Nations Foundation which is closely monitoring developments. American delegation.

China and the Europeans

At the G20, Chinese Premier Li Qiang urged European countries not to distance themselves from Beijing, saying “interdependence should not be equated with insecurity.”

Beijing will likely hammer home the same message at the UN as it attempts to separate European nations from the United States. China’s economy is struggling, making its leaders even more worried about a trade loss.

The European Union is taking a more cautious stance towards China, notably by adopting a “risk reduction” policy that affects the types of trade between the bloc and the Asian giant.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, sends Han Zheng, a largely ceremonial vice president, as his representative (a surprise to many who were expecting Foreign Minister Wang Yi).

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Han will meet “with leaders of relevant countries.” It was not specified.

Beijing’s diplomatic base in Europe is crumbling. China’s 17+1 group of Central and Eastern European countries fell to 14+1 after Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania exited. In May, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told POLITICO that the group had “no substance and no future.” Recent indications that Italy may leave China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s international infrastructure development program have added to Beijing’s concerns.

During a multi-stop trip that took him to Asia this month, Biden strengthened relations with some of China’s neighbors. But he also declared during this trip that he did not want to “contain” China, the latest sign of his desire to ease growing tensions.

It is worth watching whether European leaders adopt similar language.

UN chief and member states

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to get the UN’s 193 members to focus more on long-term global challenges, such as climate change and artificial intelligence.

It has limited success.

The great powers are busy waging war (even indirectly). Small countries, meanwhile, face more immediate crises, including the economic fallout from clashes between global powers. This includes disruptions to the food supply caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“There is now no trust among UN members,” said Richard Gowan, an International Crisis Group analyst with close ties to the UN. “Many non-Western countries believe that Western countries are abandoning development aid and the fight against climate change. .”

Western leaders deny this, and to some extent it is a matter of degree.

Guterres plans a “Future Summit” in 2024 – a place where countries could find common ground on issues such as the digital economy. But amid these and other efforts by Guterres, some smaller countries are feeling overburdened, Gowan said.

“You often hear diplomats complain about their limited bandwidth,” Gowan said.

A senior U.N. official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, acknowledged that there is a capacity challenge among U.N. diplomats.

This is one of the reasons why the Future Summit was postponed until next year instead of this year, when it would have competed for attention with a summit focused on the Sustainable Development Goals, an initiative long-standing whose objective is in particular to reduce poverty.

The official argued, however, that there is broad consensus that the long-term challenges Guterres wants to highlight, such as climate change, cannot be ignored.

Phelim Kine contributed to this report.


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