US President Joe Biden will push for greater action to tackle the climate crisis, fund development in the Global South and bolster support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion when world leaders hold high-level talks at the United Nations next week, a White House adviser has said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US president was “eager” to use his trip to New York City for the 78th session of the UN General Assembly “to advance US interests and values on a range of issues”.
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The US president will meet with several world leaders during the event, Sullivan said, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
He will also deliver a speech on Tuesday during the high-level General Debate, the most widely watched event in the UN’s annual calendar.
“And in that speech, he will lay out for the world the steps that he and his administration have taken to advance a vision of American leadership that is built on the premise of working with others to solve the world’s most pressing problems,” Sullivan said.
Approximately 150 heads of state and government ministers are due to turn up in person next week for the General Assembly, which offers a chance for countries to present issues of particular concern in a series of live public speeches.
In-person attendance has steadily recovered since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced leaders three years ago to send in prerecorded video messages due to safety precautions. The UN is composed of 193 member states.
The climate crisis and the war in Ukraine are expected to figure prominently during this year’s talks, with the Ukrainian president attending in person for the first time since the conflict broke out.
Zelenskyy is expected to address the General Assembly on Tuesday and speak at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday which could place him at the same table as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Ukrainian leader will travel to Washington, DC, next Thursday to meet with Biden at the White House. Zelenskyy will also visit the US Capitol, where lawmakers face a September 30 deadline to pass a federal spending bill that will include further aid to his war-torn country.
“I think [Zelenskyy is] looking forward to the opportunity not just to see President Biden here at the White House, but also to see congressional leaders from both parties to make the case that the United States has been a great friend and partner to Ukraine throughout this entire brutal war, and that the United States should continue to do that,” Sullivan said on Friday.
Who else will attend UNGA?
Earlier in the day, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Washington would focus on its global partnerships during the General Assembly and reaffirm its commitment to the global body.
“Me and my team, we’re working around the clock with the administration to engage in this multilateral forum,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “[Biden] will be highlighting to the world our commitment to the United Nations.”
The ambassador’s comments come amid questions around the Biden administration’s commitment to the global body as it puts more energy into a slew of bilateral agreements and regional diplomacy.
Other observers also have pointed out that Biden will be the only top leader from the UN Security Council’s five permanent veto-wielding members who plans to attend next week’s event.
The heads of state from the other four permanent members — France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom — are skipping the General Debate.
“The absence of other heads of state, you have to engage with them on why they’re not here — but their countries, most of them will be represented at senior levels,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday.
Focus on Global South
Also high on the UNGA agenda this year will be concerns of the Global South, in part a reflection of the increased attention put on the developing world by Western nations eager to secure support for the effort to isolate Russia.
Several top-level meetings happening during the General Assembly focus on the priorities of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, including climate, health and financing for development.
They will also discuss how to get the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals — a shared “blueprint” for tackling poverty, inequality and environmental issues — back on track.
“This is a year when the countries of the Global South have set the agenda,” said Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group think tank.
“Non-Western countries have played this moment quite effectively,” he said. “I think they have taken advantage of the fact that they know that the US, on one hand, and then Russia on the other, want their support.”
The event is also taking place amid heightened tensions and competition between the US and China. Washington and its allies have recently tried to counter Beijing’s growing influence in developing nations with their own pledges of money for development and climate aid.
Still, ahead of the New York meetings, diplomats acknowledged their focus on the developing world but dismissed suggestions that rivalry played a role.
For his part, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this week that the General Assembly will be “a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good”.
“And action is what the world needs now,” he told reporters.