U.S. to trim diplo­matic pres­ence at U.N. talks

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - COLUM LYNCH

The State Depart­ment plans to scale back its diplo­matic pres­ence at this year’s an­nual United Na­tions gath­er­ing of world lead­ers in Septem­ber as a cost-sav­ing ini­tia­tive, ac­cord­ing to four well-placed diplo­matic sources.

For more than seven decades, Amer­i­can pres­i­dents from Harry Tru­man to Ron­ald Rea­gan to Barack Obama have at­tended the fall U.N. 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 U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly, and he will be ac­com­pa­nied by other top ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing his sonin-law, Jared Kush­ner, and his daugh­ter Ivanka Trump, who stopped by U.N. head­quar­ters Fri­day for a pri­vate lunch with U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guterres.

But the ranks of pro­fes­sional diplo­mats, aides and of­fi­cials who 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 U.S. staff is en­vi­sioned, but two of­fi­cials said the State Depart­ment is seek­ing to keep a ceil­ing down to about 300 peo­ple, in­clud­ing ev­ery­one from the pres­i­dent to sup­port staff who sched­ule meet­ings and copy speeches.

Last year, 347 U.S. of­fi­cials were counted by the U.N. in the of­fi­cial Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion, which in­cluded Obama and his top diplo­mat, John Kerry. But the full del­e­ga­tion, in­clud­ing sup­port staff and se­cu­rity, was far larger, ac­cord­ing to for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials.

The State Depart­ment and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil had not re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment. A spokesman for the U.S. mis­sion to the U.N. de­clined to com­ment.

While some crit­ics fear that a trun­cated diplo­matic pres­ence will di­min­ish U.S. 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 U.N. ex­pert at the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Pol­icy, said 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 G-20 meet­ings that he doesn’t re­ally know how to be­have on th­ese oc­ca­sions,” Gowan said. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the U.N., “should be ab­so­lutely co­coon­ing the pres­i­dent in staffers in the hope that they can keep him away from trou­ble.”

De­spite the scaled-back ex­pec­ta­tions, Trump is ex­pected to stay in the area longer than his pre­de­ces­sor, who gen­er­ally spent two work­ing days in New York. Obama and his aides used to stay a night at the Wal­dorf As­to­ria — un­til the pur­chase of the ho­tel by a Chi­nese in­sur­ance gi­ant, An­bang In­sur­ance Group. That prompted Obama and the Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion to check out for good, fear­ing China might spy on them. They re­lo­cated to the New York Palace, which is owned by a South Korean con­glom­er­ate, Lotte Group.

Trump, who is ex­pected to stay at his New Jersey golf club, had ini­tially planned to spend 10 days, re­ceiv­ing for­eign lead­ers at his club. But sources said he is likely to cut back his visit to a few days.

Tiller­son, mean­while, is ex­pected to spend far less time en­gag­ing in diplo­matic spade­work than his pre­de­ces­sors, who tra­di­tion­ally spend more than a week in New York meet­ing with for­eign dig­ni­taries in nu­mer­ous meet­ings.

The U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly de­bate opens this year on Sept. 19 with an ad­dress by Trump, who will speak af­ter the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly pres­i­dent, the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral and the pres­i­dent of Brazil. While at­ten­tion fo­cuses on the speeches of kings, pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters, it also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for mi­dlevel of­fi­cials from the State Depart­ment and other fed­eral agen­cies to par­tic­i­pate in in­ten­sive rounds of speed diplo­macy.

Most of the State Depart­ment bu­reaus’ key as­sis­tant sec­re­taries gen­er­ally take at least a dozen staff mem­bers. But this year they have been in­structed to scale back, in some cases al­low­ing only a sin­gle aide to ac­com­pany the act­ing chief of the the bu­reau on the trip.

The diplo­matic culling is be­ing en­forced by Tiller­son, the for­mer ExxonMo­bil chief who has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in U.N. diplo­macy dur­ing his first six months on the job. It comes at a time when the White House is seek­ing as much as a 30 per­cent cut in U.S. fund­ing to the State Depart­ment and even deeper cuts in U.N. oper­a­tions.

The in­ter­na­tional prepa­ra­tions have set the stage for clashes over a range of pri­or­i­ties. Ear­lier this month, Ha­ley pro­posed mak­ing the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis the cen­ter­piece of the pres­i­dent’s de­but be­fore the world com­mu­nity.

The plan would seek to cre­ate im­proved con­di­tions for Syr­ian refugees in their re­gion, re­duc­ing the need to re­set­tle them in the West.

But the White House nixed the idea, which would have drawn at­ten­tion to Trump’s ban on travel for in­di­vid­u­als from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

In­stead, the White House iden­ti­fied five pri­or­i­ties it in­tends to high­light: rein­ing in North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, re­solv­ing the Syria cri­sis, ral­ly­ing sup­port for a tougher re­sponse to ter­ror­ism, over­haul­ing the U.N., and ad­dress­ing the refugee and hunger cri­sis.

AP/U.N./ESKINDER DEBEBE

Ivanka Trump and U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guterres met for lunch Fri­day at United Na­tions head­quar­ters.

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