Delegation to UN cut back as US isolationism mounts
THE US State Department plans to scale back its diplomatic presence at this year’s annual UN gathering of world leaders in September, a cost-saving initiative that delivers another powerful signal that America is deepening its retreat from international diplomacy, according to well-placed diplomatic sources.
For more than seven decades, American presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have attended the autumn UN General Assembly general debate in New York to project their vision of American foreign policy to the world.
They have been accompanied by a growing entourage of American diplomats, lawyers and technical experts who negotiate a wide range of issues, from nuclear arms treaties to climate change pacts and conflicts.
President Donald Trump does plan to address other world leaders at the UN, General Assembly, and he will be accompanied by other top advisers, including his son-inlaw Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who stopped by UN headquarters on Friday for a private lunch with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
But the ranks of professional diplomats, aides and officials that attend the event to promote American policy priorities on a range of issues will be thinned out.
For now, it remains unclear precisely how large of a cut in US staff is envisioned, but two officials said that the State Department is seeking to keep a ceiling down to about 300 people, including everyone from the president to support staff.
Last year, 347 US officials were counted by the UN in the official American delegation, which included then-president Obama and his top diplomat, John Kerry. But the full delegation, including support staff and security, was far larger, according to former US officials.
While some critics fear that a truncated diplomatic presence will diminish US influence on an important international stage, others, including Trump supporters and former political appointees in the Obama administration, think the American delegation could use some trimming.
Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Policy, said that a lighter presidential workload at the September summit might not be such a bad thing, particularly given Trump’s record of aggravating diplomatic disagreements with allies in recent foreign visits. But a larger diplomatic presence could help diminish the damage.
“Trump demonstrated at the NATO and G20 meetings that he doesn’t really know how to behave on these occasions,” Gowan said. Tillerson and Haley “should be absolutely cocooning the president in staffers in the hope that they can keep him away from trouble.” Foreign Policy
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.