U.N. set to tackle top crises
Leaders to focus on North Korea, Rohingyas; Trump to make debut
UNITED NATIONS — Facing an escalating nuclear threat from North Korea and the mass flight of minority Muslims from Myanmar, world leaders gather at the United Nations starting Monday to tackle these and other tough challenges — from the spread of terrorism to a warming planet.
The spotlight will be on President Donald Trump and France’s new leader, Emmanuel Macron, who will each be making his first appearance at the General Assembly. They will be joined by more than 100 heads of state and government, including Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, who is said to be bringing a 70-member entourage.
While Trump’s speeches and meetings will be closely followed, it will be North Korea, which Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls “the most dangerous crisis that we face today,” that will be most carefully watched. No official event addressing Pyongyang’s relentless campaign to develop nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States is on the U.N. agenda, but it is expected to be the No. 1 issue for most leaders.
Not far behind will be the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, victims of what Guterres calls a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has driven nearly 400,000 to flee to Bangladesh in the past three weeks. The Security Council, in its first statement on Myanmar in nine years, condemned the violence and called for immediate steps to end it. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is hosting a closed meeting on the crisis Monday, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s contact group on the Rohingyas is scheduled to meet Tuesday.
Guterres said leaders would also focus on a third major threat — climate change. The number of natural disasters has nearly quadrupled, and he pointed to unprecedented weather events in recent weeks from Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sierra Leone.
While Trump has announced that the United States will pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Macron will be hosting a meeting Tuesday to spur its implementation. And a late addition to the hundreds of official meetings and side events during the ministerial week is a high-level session Monday on the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
Trump has been critical of the United Nations and has promised to cut the U.S. contribution to its budget, which is the largest. So some diplomats were surprised that the United States would sponsor an event Monday on reforming the 193-member world body.
Trump and Guterres will speak, and the United States has asked all countries to sign a declaration on U.N. reforms. Over 100 have added their names, but Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Friday that “we are not sure we will sign this declaration.”
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak reminded member states that even representatives of countries “with profound disagreements on fundamental issues will sit side by side.”
“As long as we can use these meeting rooms to talk and reach compromises in good will, then we all have the collective opportunity to use the U.N. to make the world a better, and more peaceful, place,” Lajcak said.