- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be there, but his invasion of Ukraine is expected to be at center stage when more than 100 world leaders gather next week in New York for the biggest United Nations gathering since COVID-19 swept the globe in early 2020.

It’s just one of a number of hot-button issues likely to get a full airing at the annual U.N. General Assembly in the heart of New York City. World leaders will have a brief time in the global spotlight to make their cases, push their pet projects or air their grievances.

President Biden’s struggle to restore the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran will also be a focal point. The administration is likely to honor U.N. protocols and grant a visa for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to speak to the General Assembly despite Republican attempts to block Mr. Raisi from attending.

The Chinese government’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims and increasing military aggressiveness toward Taiwan are also expected to face scrutiny during the two-day marathon of speeches from world leaders starting Tuesday.

More than 100 heads of state are on the provisional list of speakers. Mr. Biden will travel to New York to address the world body on Tuesday and hold traditional brief meetings with fellow world leaders.

The administration’s struggling foreign policy, nearly two years in the making, will be in the spotlight.

The president is expected to build on a message he offered a year ago when he announced the “opening of a new era of relentless diplomacy” and vowed that his administration would “stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones.”

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Biden will confront the Chinese government directly over its recent expansion of military drills and ballistic missile tests near Taiwan. Last year, he took care to avoid any mention of China by name and stressed that Washington is “not seeking a new cold war.” It was an obvious nod to Beijing, which has accused the U.S. of stoking a cold war.

Mr. Biden is likely to directly call out Russia’s nearly 7-month-old invasion of Ukraine and to take credit for rallying the world’s major democracies behind Kyiv. Ukraine has relied on weaponry from the U.S. and other NATO nations to repel the Russian onslaught and launch a counterattack in recent weeks.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a Sept. 8 speech in San Francisco that Russia’s invasion presented a “crisis of confidence” for the United Nations, not just for a few great powers.

“This is not a new cold war. This is not about a few countries. This involves all of us,” she said. “This is about defending the U.N. Charter. This is about peace for the next generation. This is about protecting the U.N.’s principles. It is about serving, not dominating, the peoples of the world.”

Mr. Biden risks being upstaged by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is among the most anticipated General Assembly speakers. The neophyte politician and former comedic actor has emerged as a global figure for his leadership in the face of the Russian invasion. He has declared that the “world’s future” will be determined on the battlefields of Ukraine.

Mr. Zelenskyy, who has a penchant for channeling emotion in speeches before international leaders, warned the U.N. Security Council on the six-month anniversary of the Feb. 24 invasion that if Russia isn’t stopped, “then all these Russian murderers will inevitably end up in other countries — Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America.”

All eyes will be watching when Russia attempts to counter that claim. The Kremlin has said Mr. Putin will not attend this year’s gathering, but veteran Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is slated to deliver remarks in New York.

Another confrontational moment is anticipated when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro takes the stage, likely with a repeat of his claim last year that his country is the victim of economic “persecution” from U.S. sanctions.

Other heads of state scheduled to speak include King Abdullah II of Jordan and the presidents of France, Colombia, South Korea, South Africa and Egypt.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is also on the list. He plans to appear in New York even as political tensions spiral ahead of an Oct. 2 election in Brazil, where polls show him trailing Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former president and leftist icon.

Recovering from COVID-19

The in-person speeches are expected to restore the General Assembly to its pre-pandemic status, with delegations from around the world snarling traffic in midtown Manhattan and clinking glasses at high-end hotel receptions throughout the week.

In September 2020, the pandemic kept world leaders from traveling to New York for the annual meeting for the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations. Instead, recorded speeches from leaders, introduced by a single diplomat from each country, were shown in the General Assembly Hall.

Last September, the U.N. decided on a hybrid format that allowed world leaders to attend the gathering in person or deliver recorded speeches if COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from traveling, an option 72 leaders chose.

U.N. officials have said no recorded speeches will be allowed this year. Despite the continuing pandemic, The Associated Press reported, more than 80% of leaders of the 193 member nations want to address the annual gathering in person and engage in off-the-record meetings and conversations where a lot of international business is conducted.

The whirl of the General Assembly always brings drama, surprises and a scramble of back-channel diplomatic meetings. The prospect of a meeting between the Biden administration and Iran is likely this year with deep uncertainty over the status of the president’s pursuit of a renewed nuclear deal with the Islamic republic.

In 2018, President Trump pulled the United States out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s economy. He said Tehran spoiled the agreement by backing militant groups across the Middle East and by testing ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

After months of on-again, off-again negotiations, the Biden administration and Iranian officials appear close to a new deal. They have traded written responses on the finer points of a road map for how the U.S. will lift certain Trump-era sanctions in exchange for a commitment from Iran to restrict its rapidly advancing nuclear program.

Iranian officials have dragged their feet ahead of the U.N. gathering. Mr. Raisi warned last week that any road map to restore the deal would require international inspectors to end their investigation of man-made uranium particles found at undeclared sites in the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has sought answers for years about man-made uranium particles at the suspect sites. U.S. intelligence agencies, other Western nations and the IAEA said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons.

Republicans in Washington have sought to prevent the Biden administration from using the U.N. General Assembly as a backdrop to try to clinch the deal and to block Mr. Raisi from using the event as a forum to assail the United States.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas have called on Mr. Biden to deny visas for Mr. Raisi and his delegation.

In a letter to Mr. Biden last month, the lawmakers cited a report saying members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration designated as a terrorist organization, were plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials.

“Allowing Raisi to travel to the United States — while his agents actively work to assassinate senior American officials on U.S. soil — would gravely endanger our national security, given the likely presence of IRGC agents in the Iranian delegation,” the Republicans wrote.

Days after the letter was publicized, the Justice Department charged an IRGC member with plotting to kill former White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton.

The Biden administration has dodged questions about whether Mr. Raisi will be granted a visa but has signaled that the Iranian president will likely receive one.

State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters last month that “visa records are confidential under U.S. law, but as host nation of the U.N., the United States is generally obligated under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement to facilitate travel to the headquarters district by representatives of U.N. member states.”

“We take our obligations under these agreements very seriously,” he said.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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