When President Joe Biden and other world leaders descend on New York next week to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly gathering, they do so at a tenuous time in global politics.
Next week’s meeting comes as a recent U.N. report said that countries are falling short in meeting the standards of the 2015 Paris Agreement and must accelerate their response to the climate crisis, countries are missing U.N. targets on reducing poverty, and the brutal war between Russia and Ukraine seemingly has no end in sight.
While several world leaders are skipping this year’s summit, including four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and the U.K.’s Rishi Sunak — Biden will be faced with a busy schedule of meetings and remarks.
In addition to delivering the second speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday — the traditional slot as the U.N.’s host country — Biden will meet with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the summit, according to the prime minister’s office. It will be their first face-to-face meeting since the Israeli leader returned to office and comes amid the White House’s criticism of Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform push.
At a press briefing Thursday, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield laid out the country’s three priorities for the General Assembly:
- Strengthening partnerships, particularly when it comes to the country’s commitment to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals;
- Reforms to the multilateral system, namely making international institutions more effective, inclusive, transparent and accountable;
- And working to uphold the principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter
“When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it struck at the heart of the U.N. Charter,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. “We will continue to pursue a just and durable peace – in line with the U.N. Charter’s core principles, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine – for as long as it takes.”
“As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we will also redouble our efforts – working alongside our partners – to defend the fundamental freedoms of all,” she added.
Shortly after Biden’s speech on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the General Assembly, his first in-person address since Russia’s invasion began last year. Speaking to the General Assembly last year by video, Zelenskyy called for Russia to face consequences for its “illegal war” on Ukraine.
“A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment,” Zelenskyy said in his remarks. “The crime was committed against our State borders. The crime was committed against the lives of our people. The crime was committed against the dignity of our women and men. The crime was committed against the values that make you and me a community of the United Nations.”
Zelenskyy is also set to travel to Washington next week to meet with lawmakers, according to congressional aides, and President Joe Biden, per an administration official. It comes as the Biden administration has requested $24 billion in additional aid for Ukraine, including $13 billion for military aid, and some Republicans — particularly those who now control the House — are opposed to providing.
Zelenskyy last visited the U.S. in December of last year, where he thanked Americans and their representatives for their support in repelling Russia’s invasion.
Biden will no doubt mention the war in Ukraine in his remarks. In last year’s speech, the president delivered a full-throated condemnation of Russia’s invasion and called on the world to stand against the aggression of the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin.
“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people,” Biden said last year. “Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold.”
Marti Flacks, director of the of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that this year will be a “really interesting moment” for the U.N. General Assembly, noting that it comes shortly after the G20 summit in India — which Biden attended, alongside many other world leaders — as well as the BRICS Summit between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“Those kinds of regional and thematic groupings have generated a lot of attention, and are growing in influence, growing in size, growing in importance,” Flacks told Spectrum News, noting that the UNGA “is taking place amidst a sense of competition with some of these growing regional and thematic organizations.”
“I think it will be interesting to see the extent to which President Biden, in his remarks, tries to balance the interest in this single global institution that is so central to his approach to international relations, with the reality and the need to be able to work with regional groupings on issues of mutual interest and importance.,” she added.
Flacks also said that Zelenskyy’s speech will be a “pivotal moment,” particularly if the U.N. Security Council calls a special session on Ukraine, which will allow him to “directly confront Russian representatives about the conflict.”