UN General Assembly: Biden urges unity as nations gather in shadow of Russia’s war


The New York Times :
The annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly began on Tuesday in New York City with the war in Ukraine raging for a second year and with the organization urging cooperation among member states to resolve a host of global crises, including climate disruptions, pandemics and nations’ development challenges.

“It is 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,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, said at a news briefing last week.

“Action is what the world needs now.”

But the world has become increasingly polarized.

Russia’s war against Ukraine is pitting Moscow against the United States and its allies.

Tensions between China and the United States are rising.

And nations in the global south – a collection of developing and poor countries in Africa, Asia and South America – have complained that the West has disproportionately focused on the conflict in Ukraine and ignored their crises.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres addressed the General Assembly as the first speaker.

He called catastrophic flooding in Libya “climate chaos” and called for reforming the Security Council, as well as redesigning international financial institutions.

He said: “Democracy is under threat,” he says.

“Authoritarianism is on the march. Inequalities are growing.

And hate speech is on the rise.”

He also declared he would not give up on efforts to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The leaders of Britain, China, France, India and Russia are skipping the General Assembly this year for various reasons.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will attend in person and speak before the Assembly on Tuesday.

Last year, he gave a scathing recorded speech demanding that Russia be punished for the invasion of his country.

Mr. Zelensky’s presence will help keep the conflict at the forefront of the diplomatic gathering, as allies grow anxious about Kyiv’s grinding counteroffensive and its continued need for military aid.

President Biden, who is addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday morning, is expected to focus global attention on the need to protect and nurture democracies, call for countries to continue backing Ukraine and urge advanced nations to do more to bolster the economies of countries in the global south. He followed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil; by longstanding the tradition, the leader of Brazil is the first head of state to address the gathering.


Among other notable speakers on Tuesday will be Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, who plans to address the Assembly as the Islamic Republic faces a crisis of legitimacy amid uprisings at home.

His speech will come a day after a deal with the United States freed prisoners held by Iran in exchange for the dismissal of criminal charges against five Iranians and the release of $6 billion in Iran’s frozen assets. Also speaking will be President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the leaders of Hungary and South Africa.

The General Assembly aims this year to address the concerns of the global south.

Continuing Tuesday is a session on the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at helping developing and poor nations meet the objectives by 2030 for advancing health, education, gender equality and prosperity.

Climate issues have been a theme of the speeches so far, and Biden is also emphasizing the issue, which he has faced mounting pressure to more aggressively tackle.

He cited heatwaves in the U.S. and China, droughts in the Horn of Africa, and the recent flooding in Libya.

“Taken together these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof our world,” he said.

On China, Biden pushes back against notions of Cold War-style competition, stressing “common efforts” on climate and other issues. (China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, is among the heads of state not attending the General Assembly this year.)

Biden used the “de-risking not decoupling” language on China, which has become common parlance in his administration.

It was coined by a European leader as a slogan for economic relations with China.

U.S. and European leaders want to reassure China that they are not seeking to limit China’s economic growth or to sever global trade ties.

There’s been a heavy emphasis so far from the president on collective action with allies – on climate, artificial intelligence, infrastructure and food security – mostly saving talk of war and competition for later in his remarks.

Biden says the Group of 20 nations has been strengthened as a “vital forum,” and cites welcoming the African Union as a permanent member. It’s notable that he has mentioned the African Union before Ukraine.

A day after five American citizens detained in Iran were freed in exchange for the release of billions of dollars of Iran’s oil assets and five Iranians charged with violating sanctions in the United States, the leaders of both nations will speak at the General Assembly.

But neither will be present when the other speaks, and the countries are not expected to hold any direct meetings.

In his address, President Biden emphasizes global unity, repeating to the Assembly that “we know our future is bound to yours.”

President Biden opened his speech at last year’s General Assemby with a long riff about the defense of Ukraine. Not this year — perhaps a recognition that many unaligned countries here do not believe Ukraine should so heavily dominate the global agenda.