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Thursday, 17 October 2019

UN General Assembly: The world is watching

The 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly could be the most-watched in history because of the policies of the Trump administration

Camelia Entekhabifard , Wednesday 26 Sep 2018
Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump speaks as he chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council held during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 26, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)
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US Representative at the United Nations Nikki Haley said this week that the UN Security Council meeting on 26 September, supposed to be chaired by US President Donald Trump, would be “the most-watched Security Council session ever.”

However, it seems that not only this particular session, but also the whole 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, will be the most-watched in history as it will indicate some of the effects of the foreign policies currently being pursued by the US administration.

This General Assembly is the second attended by Trump, but what makes it different from the previous one is what the US has been doing to its allies in the meantime.

The US’s Western allies are disappointed at Trump’s pull-out from the Paris Agreement on climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran as well as the customs tariffs on their exports put in place by the US.

There are also other issues like the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, the future of NATO and the NAFTA agreement, which Trump has called “unfair” to the United States, that Trump has said he wants to change.

There are many unhappy faces at this General Assembly meeting standing around the ever-smiling Trump.

There are also the tariff increases on Chinese imports to the US, with the general rise in US tariffs not even leaving Canada untouched.

Most of the world’s leaders have a reason to be disappointed with the US, but they still have to find a way of keeping going with this superpower and the global economy it dominates.

Perhaps many of them may be tolerating Trump as the investigation into the alleged collusion between Trump’s election campaign and Russia continues. Some may privately wish to see Trump’s impeachment as a way out of the current deadlock.

However, while such hopes may be expressed privately among some diplomats at the UN, in the streets of New York outside one does not hear such thoughts expressed by ordinary Americans, who do not seem to have concerns about the president’s fate.

Life continues as normal in the US even as many Americans may be tired of hearing about allegations in the press about the current administration.

Meanwhile, Trump’s innovations in US foreign policy continue, whether moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cutting off aid to the Palestinians as a way of putting pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sit at the negotiation table with the Israelis or pressuring the Iranians to renegotiate the Iran deal by implementing US sanctions.

None of these policies have pleased the international community, meaning the Western countries, though some of Trump’s allies among the Arab states have seen an opportunity in the policies pursued by this White House to settle regional issues.

Trump is still popular among many Americans, and there is a conviction among those supporting him that he will finish his term as president despite the noises being made against him in Washington.

Yet, this may not lead to an automatic acceptance of Trump’s requests of his Arab allies. Saudi Arabia has refused to increase its oil production to the level Trump had demanded, since he wants Americans to have access to cheaper fuel, as the Saudis are not in favour of Trump’s plans in this regard, for example.

The Saudi goal is to see a stable international oil market, and the Saudis see the current oil price as both acceptable and realistic.

Saudi Arabia’s bitterness against Tehran is one story, and its oil policy is quite another. It will not manipulate it if it does not see this as being in its strategic interests even if this is something that its closest ally wishes to see happen.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that this year’s UN General Assembly meetings should be focused on advancing key issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, humanitarian assistance and food security, peace and security, counter-terrorism and the reform of the United Nations.

This tells us much about how regional issues from Iran to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict count with Trump, and they will likely make the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly the most-watched ever and not just the Security Council meeting on 26 September.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The world is watching

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