The most important week of the 78th United Nations General Assembly kicked off Monday as leaders from all over the world headed to New York.
President Joe Biden will take front and center stage Tuesday morning at a time when the relevance of the body is in question — and when many of his own counterparts aren’t showing up.
The UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and American adversaries Russian President Vladamir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping won’t be there. President Biden will be the only leader from the permanent members of the Security Council to attend.
Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says there’s a lot broken about the institution, particularly the political wings: the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
"There's no doubt important work can happen during the course of this week. But it could happen anywhere, anytime," said Bolton.
In his speech Tuesday, President Biden will seek to strengthen his position as a world leader, particularly without other major leaders in attendance. He will reportedly call for Germany and Japan to be added as permanent members of the Security Council.
"It's been the American position, Japan should become a permanent member of the Security Council since the Nixon administration. And it's never happened. Raising this as an issue says to me, this is not a very serious speech. It will make Germany and Japan feel happy for a few seconds until they realize they're no better off after this than they have been for 30 plus years," Bolton said.
The meeting also marks the first time Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenksyy will meet with leaders in person in New York since the war began. He’s expected to speak before the General Assembly Tuesday as American funding of the war is up for debate in Washington.
"For somebody like Zelenskyy, he can meet 40 heads of state in four or five days of intensive meetings. I mean, there's a lot that can be done. But it's not because you expect the UN as the UN to do any of it," Bolton said.
Bolton says Zelenksyy should point out to African countries, who have largely remained neutral on the war, that any country could be subject to unprovoked aggression. He says Russia and China have filled a gap in many ways that could ultimately hurt the United States.
"What the Russians have done through the Wagner Group in North Africa in particular, all of these are signs not of greater cooperation, investment trade, but of efforts at political control," he said.
But the goal of the General Assembly is not to talk about war — health care, sustainability and climate change and are set to be major themes of the week, particularly as a recent UN report says countries are failing to meet the standards set forth in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
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