THE WORLD DESCENDS ON MANHATTAN WITH ALL EYES ON DONALD TRUMP
▶ Damien McElroy reports from New York on a general assembly that will combine fraternity with fireworks
Police no-parking stickers litter the pavements. New Yorkers have been told to avoid the east side of Manhattan. The hotels are filled to bursting.
It is United Nations week in the Big Apple and all eyes will be on US president Donald Trump in the first gathering since he took charge of the global superpower.
There is a great deal on the line as 193 nations gather for the 72nd annual general assembly. Controversial issues have already led to absences.
Attempts to stop Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority is top of the agenda. British and Turkish diplomats have organised high-level meetings to put pressure on the government and military.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate and de facto leader of the Myanmar government, pulled out of the trip to New York when she realised she would be treated as a pariah, not a paragon.
Also missing from the fray will be Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Mr Putin is still in the crosshairs over Russian interference in the US presidential election, while Mr Xi has little to offer Mr Trump or Asian leaders on their demands to rein in North Korea.
You can also expect fireworks over the Iranian nuclear deal as Mr Trump presses his case that the agreement with Tehran must be recast with much tighter restrictions.
The first speaker of Tuesday’s opening session is always the Brazilian president. This year the spotlight could be unfortunate as Michel Temer has just been charged with racketeering. Elevated to his country’s leadership after a power struggle resulted in his Leftist predecessor being ousted, Mr Temer is now a symbol of its failing politics.
Once the speeches are under way, there will be the perennial fight over timing for the leaders. Everyone is given 15 minutes, but hardly anyone sticks to it. The record is Fidel Castro’s 269-minute diatribe.
Seating is arranged by lottery. Look out for North Korea’s delegation in the middle of the front row, particularly under the nose of Mr Trump during his debut speech on Tuesday.
The US leader wants to be a transformative figure at the UN. Despite cuts in departments such as peacekeeping as a result of shrinking US contributions, Washington has an ambitious agenda. Nikki Haley, the Trump-appointed UN ambassador, said she expected much from the meetings.
“President Trump has always seen there is value in the UN and now I think the world is seeing it,” Ms Haley said.
Mr Trump’s appetite for confrontation adds to the risk that his address will not go well.
“The president’s biggest challenge will be himself,” said Richard Gowan, of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The media will be hoping and praying that Trump will cause ructions at the UN. He may not be able to hold back.”
The US leader hosts a summit on UN reform the day before the General Assembly opens.
The gathering of 100 representatives tomorrow has been called by secretary general Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal who took charge of the UN at the start of the year.
With so much up in the air, it is notable that one of the expected breakthroughs should be on Libya next Wednesday when special envoy Ghassan Salame presents a road map for compromise between the factions.
“We have a strong political process, I think, under UN leadership,” said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN. “We have a process that will bring people together, help them amend their political agreement and implement it. That is what the country needs so that it can tackle the threat from terrorism and threats from criminal gangs who are abusing so many migrants as they leave Libya.”
Regional issues in Syria, Yemen and Qatar will be at the forefront from the start as Mr Guterres today meets Adel Al Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, and shortly afterwards hosts King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, is due to speak to the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr Trump will continue his attempts to mediate when he meets the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, after hopes for movement on the Qatar crisis were undermined this month.
Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the Egyptian president, is also travelling to New York and hopes to overcome the impasse with the US over a cut in aid.
Mr Trump will also hold talks with leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Britain, and have lunch with African leaders. On Thursday, he will meet leaders from Turkey, Afghanistan and Ukraine, then take part in a lunch with leaders of South Korea and Japan.
The UN meeting is an occasion where outside events provide as much momentum as the formal gathering. There is a significant focus on the sustainable development goals and the urgency of reinvigorating these with only 13 years to meet the 2030 deadline.
“The things that are talked about more often are the things that are the sexiest,” said Kevin McAndrew, strategy director at Save the Children.
“But I think the things where innovation is truly accomplishing something on the goals are much more incremental and on the edges, and not as sexy.”
Climate change is likely to be another flashpoint. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, speaks after Mr Trump and his message on the Paris Accord is expected to criticise the US leader’s withdrawal.
The end of an era is marked on Wednesday when former president Bill Clinton gives an address to the Bloomberg Global Business Forum.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, will take over from the Clinton Foundation as the host of the elite social event.
Seating is arranged by lottery. Look out for North Korea’s delegation in the middle of the front row, under Mr Trump’s nose
The UN building in New York yesterday where the 193 nations will gather for the 72nd UN General Assembly