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Biden aims to raise global agenda at UN even as top leaders skip rally

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The White House is shrugging off concerns that the United Nations General Assembly will fail to produce a policy outcome this year, with President Joe Biden set to deliver a speech Tuesday to an audience lacking several key heads of state.

In his speech to the 78th United Nations General Assembly, Biden, a senior administration official told reporters, “will outline to the world the steps he and his administration have taken to work with others to resolve the most pressing challenges most serious in the world.

“It will outline its vision for how countries, working within reformed and modernized international institutions, can harness their efforts to end conflict, defend human rights and the rule of law, and help countries to develop their economies,” added the official.

Biden is also expected to discuss the “significant foreign policy successes” of his presidency, emphasizing the United States’ role in the world as the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign approaches. As the president seeks a second term, leaders around the world are worried about what that role might look like after next year’s elections.

The annual UN negotiations are taking place for the second year under the shadow of the war in Ukraine, and the conflict will remain a focus of leaders’ minds. Although the UN took the lead in organizing humanitarian aid during the conflict, it did not play the role of mediator during the war.

This year, the nations of the “South” are also demanding the attention of leaders. Many have observed with skepticism how the West focuses its attention and funding on Ukraine, while its crises go unnoticed.

Biden will meet with Brazilian President Lula da Silva on Wednesday to discuss labor issues and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Biden has clashed over the country’s controversial judicial reform plan.

Biden and Netanyahu, the senior official said, “will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the democratic values ​​shared between our two countries and a vision of a more stable, more prosperous and more integrated region, and will compare their notes on how to effectively counter” and deter Iran.

But with the high-level absences of Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – all permanent members of the UN Security Council – the Biden administration will be relegated to lower-level engagements with its main allies and adversaries, while hoping to raise the level of the United States. State views on global infrastructure, food security, democratic values ​​and territorial sovereignty.

“The fact that President Biden is here really illustrates how much we view his leadership role on the multilateral stage,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Council on Foreign last week. Relationships.

As the United States seeks to counter the authoritarian influence of Russia and China, Biden joins the presidents of five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – to the “very first so-called C5+1 presidential summit”. “Tuesday, the first senior official said, for a discussion on regional security, trade and connectivity, climate and reforms to improve governance and the rule of law.

A major challenge to the Biden administration’s ability to attract attention and headlines on its foreign policy goals: forum fatigue, with the G20 leaders meeting, the BRIC developing countries summit , the APEC gathering focused on Indo-Pacific policy and climate. The COP28 discussions are all happening on an unusually condensed schedule, taking away some of the urgency from the conversation happening in New York.

“There’s always been a feeling that when you can’t get what you want from the UN, you have to go elsewhere,” said Marti Flacks, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Council for Strategic and International Studies. “More of them are run by American competitors, particularly Chinese ones. So we have the feeling that they are gaining strength.”

Still, Biden officials touted the gathering as “an essential forum” and “an incredibly rich and important place” for exciting discussions.

“The president understands the importance of coming forward to speak to his counterparts,” a second senior US official said.

One of the most high-profile meetings of the week won’t even take place in New York. Biden will host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House on Thursday, before Zelensky meets with members of the US Congress at the Capitol.

The officials said Biden would seek to balance the U.S. commitment to Ukraine with other pressing global challenges during his remarks on Tuesday.

“When we are accused of focusing too much attention on Ukraine,” Thomas-Greenfield said, it is important that the United States can show that it “can deal with both Ukraine and the rest of the world “.

Ukraine will “feature prominently” in Biden’s remarks, the senior official said, but the president will also “talk about a lot of other things that are on our agenda and a lot of other issues that we Let’s move forward.”

Biden, the official added, will talk about “the United States’ commitment to the principles that are currently at stake in some of the world’s most serious conflicts, primarily in Ukraine, and what we are going to do to ensure that the Charter of the United Nations is respected. supported and strengthened the coalition for independence from Russia in light of a brutal conflict and also reiterate our commitment to human rights around the world.”

But there are areas where the administration recognizes that progress will remain elusive. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he was not optimistic that UN leaders and partner countries could make progress in restoring the Black Sea Grains Initiative, despite meetings of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres with Zelensky and other partners in New York this week.

“We know that the Turks are working hard in this direction; Guterres is working hard on this,” Sullivan told reporters. “But the Russians aren’t giving us much reason to be optimistic at the moment.”

This issue raises the broader question of the UN’s effectiveness, with Russia remaining a member of the UN Security Council, despite the Council’s multiple demands to end the war in Ukraine. Thomas-Greenfield said the United States was working closely with the Ukrainians to document war crimes and atrocities for “future prosecution” – but it remains unclear when such a tribunal would take place.

CSIS’s Flacks noted that the rise of other regional organizations and groupings, including the G20 and BRICs, raised a crucial question for this gathering of leaders:

“Does a slower, more deliberative organization, like the UN, still matter in our international system? she asked.

For Flacks – and for the Biden administration – the answer remains yes.

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