Pres­i­dent may host world lead­ers at his re­sort in N.J.

Pos­si­ble visit dur­ing U.N. gath­er­ing called un­prece­dented

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ANNE GEARAN anne.gearan@wash­

Pres­i­dent Trump is plan­ning to host for­eign lead­ers at his New Jersey golf club when he at­tends the an­nual U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion next month, break­ing decades of prece­dent for U.S. pres­i­dents, said peo­ple fa­mil­iar with prepa­ra­tions for the gath­er­ing.

The State Depart­ment is get­ting ready for an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of for­eign meet­ings at the Bedminster, N.J., golf club over sev­eral days dur­ing the week of Sept. 18. The White House has not an­nounced plans for Trump’s first visit to the gath­er­ing, which usu­ally draws about 150 heads of state.

U.S. pres­i­dents usu­ally at­tend the gath­er­ing for about two days, while the sec­re­tary of state stays for a week or more. Both typ­i­cally hold meet­ings with for­eign dig­ni­taries at ho­tels or the United Na­tions head­quar­ters, tak­ing ad­van­tage of a unique gath­er­ing of lead­ers and diplo­mats. State Depart­ment staff mem­bers jok­ingly call the back-to-back ses­sions diplo­matic speed dat­ing.

The plans for Bedminster mark the lat­est ex­am­ple of the pres­i­dent’s hold­ing of­fi­cial events at his Trump-branded prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing his Florida sum­mit meet­ing in April with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump is ex­pected to make his first pres­i­den­tial ad­dress to the Gen­eral Assem­bly on Sept. 19. He is also likely to meet U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res at the U.N. head­quar­ters.

Most other meet­ings would prob­a­bly be held 40 miles west, at the Trump National Golf Club, ac­cord­ing to ten­ta­tive plans. Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the ini­tial plan­ning spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the evolv­ing strat­egy on the record.

Still, the idea of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent re­ceiv­ing dig­ni­taries at a pri­vate busi­ness far from U.N. head­quar­ters is un­set­tling, said Bill Richard­son, a for­mer U.N. am­bas­sador and for­mer gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico.

“It’s bet­ter to do it in the city. Do it at the U.N.,” Richard­son said. “Sym­bol­ism is im­por­tant. This is the U.N. There should be an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the im­por­tance of the U.N., not snub­bing them.”

For­eign diplo­mats are eye­ing Trump’s ap­pear­ance with a mix of an­tic­i­pa­tion and anx­i­ety. Some ex­pect an air­ing of Trump’s “Amer­ica First” credo and a re­play of threats to yank U.S. fund­ing if the vast international body does not cut waste and make re­forms.

Or Trump could use the the­atri­cal plat­form that the U.N. gath­er­ing of­fers to project a friend­lier tone, as he did in re­marks to U.N. diplo­mats he in­vited for an un­usual White House lunch in April.

“I have long felt the United Na­tions is an un­der­per­former but has tremen­dous po­ten­tial,” Trump said then.

He also joked that high-pro­file U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley “can eas­ily be re­placed.” Ha­ley is widely pre­sumed to be a fu­ture Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and, per­haps, a suc­ces­sor to Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son much sooner than that. The con­trast be­tween Ha­ley and Tiller­son, who avoids the lime­light, will be on view at the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Other na­tions are pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to U.S. sig­nals on cli­mate change, in­clud­ing whether the United States sends rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Gen­eral Assem­bly side events on the topic, and to what Trump may say about the con­tin­u­a­tion of costly U.N. peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions.

“I be­lieve the up­com­ing U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly is an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity for the U.S. to send the un­am­bigu­ous mes­sage that it stays com­mit­ted to world af­fairs and to the U.N.,” said François De­lat­tre, France’s U.N. am­bas­sador. “This is more im­por­tant than ever, as the world is con­fronted with an un­prece­dented ac­cu­mu­la­tion of crises.”

The ad­vent of a U.S. pres­i­dent who is also a New Yorker, with homes in Man­hat­tan and New Jersey, sets up the prospect of a dif­fer­ent kind of Gen­eral Assem­bly, not to men­tion even worse traf­fic than usual in Mid­town.

U.N. head­quar­ters, where traf­fic snarls are leg­endary dur­ing the peak week of the Gen­eral Assem­bly, is on the East Side. Road ac­cess to­ward Bedminster is on the West Side, al­though some lead­ers might also de­cide to reach the golf club via he­li­copter.

Trump will po­ten­tially meet with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, diplo­mats said. There has been no word of a po­ten­tial sit-down with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Spokes­men for the White House and State Depart­ment did not re­spond to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion about the up­com­ing ses­sion.

Trump’s daugh­ter and ad­viser Ivanka Trump and her hus­band, pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Jared Kush­ner, are also both ex­pected to play roles dur­ing the gath­er­ing known as UNGA.

Vera Je­linek, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Global Af­fairs at New York Univer­sity, said she ex­pects Trump to high­light his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s view that the U.N. is bi­ased against Is­rael, but also to cast him­self as a global states­man.

“I think he en­joys a big stage,” Je­linek said. “I don’t think he’s go­ing to come out as ‘Amer­ica First’ and iso­la­tion­ist. I think he’s go­ing to make an at­tempt to em­pha­size those things where there might be some unity.”

Tiller­son is likely to spend sev­eral days in New York and will meet with nu­mer­ous for­eign min­is­ters as well as at­tend some of Trump’s ses­sions with heads of state or gov­ern­ment, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with ini­tial plans for the visit said.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to fo­cus on coun­tert­er­ror­ism, Syria, the nu­clear threat from North Korea, U.N. re­form and a few other broad themes dur­ing the Gen­eral Assem­bly gath­er­ing.

So far, the State Depart­ment has not an­nounced any sep­a­rate ses­sions among for­eign min­is­ters de­voted to any pet cause. Such U.S.-driven ses­sions have been a com­mon com­po­nent for re­cent sec­re­taries of state.

For in­stance, then-Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry con­vened a spe­cial side ses­sion on en­ergy and cli­mate at last year’s UNGA.

Tiller­son has di­rected the State Depart­ment to slash the num­ber of staff sent to New York for the UNGA gath­er­ing to a third of the to­tals sent in re­cent years, peo­ple who have seen the di­rec­tive said.

The event is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for State Depart­ment em­ploy­ees, and re­cent sec­re­taries of state have ar­rived with del­e­ga­tions of a few hun­dred diplo­mats and sup­port staff.

Even some State Depart­ment staff mem­bers have rolled their eyes at the trav­el­ing cir­cus, and it was no sur­prise that Tiller­son would want to cut back. Tiller­son is in the midst of a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion and down­siz­ing of the en­tire depart­ment, and his lead­er­ship style has left many agency em­ploy­ees feel­ing dis­en­fran­chised.

Nancy McEl­downey, a for­mer ca­reer For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer and am­bas­sador who now di­rects Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Mas­ter of Sci­ence in For­eign Ser­vice pro­gram, said she un­der­stands Tiller­son’s de­sire for a more stream­lined ap­proach. But she warned that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will miss a big op­por­tu­nity if it greatly low­ers the U.S. pro­file at the U.N. gath­er­ing.

“It’s a very large, very com­pli­cated or­ga­ni­za­tion, and we al­ways have a busy agenda that we have to work across all the mem­ber states. You need a large, ex­pe­ri­enced co­hort of diplo­mats and ex­pe­ri­enced for­eign pol­icy ex­perts to work the agenda,” McEl­downey said.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity for us to pos­i­tively re­in­force our mes­sage and make progress with coun­tries across the board.”

Richard­son added ad­vice for Trump and Tiller­son, both new to gov­ern­ment and the U.N.

Lead­ers of other na­tions — in­clud­ing ad­ver­saries such as Iran and Cuba and trou­ble spots such as North Korea and Venezuela — will use the fo­rum to rub el­bows and project national power, Richard­son said. Trump should work the room, Richard­son said.

“The Gen­eral Assem­bly is the per­fect place to deal with a lot of is­sues,” and con­duct busi­ness with na­tions that don’t oth­er­wise get a lot of face time with the United States, Richard­son said.

“Ev­ery­body is to­gether. This is big­ger than the G-20, big­ger than any­thing,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Group of 20 gath­er­ing of large and emerg­ing economies, which Trump ad­dressed last month in Ger­many.

“And, New York is his town.”

“It’s bet­ter to do it in the city. Do it at the U.N. Sym­bol­ism is im­por­tant. This is the U.N.” Bill Richard­son, for­mer U.N. am­bas­sador and for­mer New Mex­ico gov­er­nor


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