President Trump says bureaucracy is stopping UN from reaching its full potential in debut appearance
About 130 world leaders are attending this year’s global gathering, but all eyes will be on the US president, whose “America First” agenda has alarmed both allies and foes
President Donald Trump made his debut at the United Nations on Monday, using his first moments at the world body to urge the 193-nation organisation to reduce bureaucracy and costs while more clearly defining its mission around the world.
But while Trump chastised the UN – an organisation he sharply criticised as a candidate for president for its spiralling costs – he said the US would “pledge to be partners in your work” to make the UN “a more effective force” for peace across the globe.
“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential due to bureaucracy and mismanagement,” said Trump, who rebuked the United Nations for a ballooning budget.
“We are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”
The president pushed the UN to focus “more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to change “business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past which were not working” while also suggesting that the US was paying more than its fair share to keep the world body operational.
But he also complimented the steps the UN had taken in the early stages of the reform process and made no threats to withdraw his nation’s support. His measured tone stood in stark contrast to his last maiden appearance at a global body, when he stood at Nato’s Brussels headquarters in May and scolded the member nations for not paying enough and refusing to explicitly back its mutual defence pact.
About 130 world leaders are attending this year’s global gathering, but all eyes will be on Trump, whose “America First” agenda has alarmed both allies and foes.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also pushing for an overhaul of the UN bureaucracy.
France and Russia have reacted coolly to the US initiative ahead of the meeting, amid concerns that the US administration is focused more on cost-cutting than improving the UN’s performance.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley was a driving force behind a US$600 million cut to the UN peacekeeping budget this year. Haley on Friday pointed to the more than 120 countries that back the US-drafted political declaration on UN reform as a “miraculous number”, showing there is support for a “massive reform package” led by Guterres.
Later on Monday, Trump will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who will also be making his maiden address at the General Assembly on Tuesday, and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Both Macron and Netanyahu are expected to raise the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, with the French leader making a strong case for keeping it alive and the Israeli prime minister pushing for its demise.
On the sidelines of the General Assembly, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian defended the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting there could be talks to strengthen the pact for the post-2025 period, but that allowing it to collapse could lead Iran’s neighbours to seek atomic weapons.
“It is essential to maintain it to avoid proliferation. In this period when we see the risks with North Korea, we must maintain this line,” he said.
“France will try to convince President Trump of the pertinence of this choice (keeping the accord) even if work can be done to complement the accord (after 2025),” he said.
Le Drian said a collapse of the deal could lead to a regional arms race.
Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, attended an “energy breakfast” with UN counterparts.
During the meeting, the White House said, Cohn repeated statements by other aides that the United States will maintain plans to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement unless it can negotiate more favourable terms.
“This position was made very clear during the breakfast,” the White House said in a statement.
Trump will also have a working dinner with Latin American leaders that will touch on the crisis in Venezuela.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests will be in the spotlight with foreign ministers set to discuss enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang during a Security Council meeting on non-proliferation on Thursday.
“The Korean crisis has focused US attention on the value of the Security Council,” said Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations and author of a new report on Trump and the UN.
“The irony is that the Trump administration now really needs a functional UN to help it deal with the biggest threat on its agenda.”
Also on Thursday, Trump will be holding talks with Japanese and South Korean leaders who have backed the US drive to ratchet up sanctions on North Korea.
The council last week imposed a new raft of measures such as a ban on export textiles and a cap on oil shipments to pile pressure on Pyongyang to come to the table and negotiate an end to its nuclear and missile programmes.
Russia and China, however, are calling for diplomatic talks with North Korea while warning that a military option as suggested by the United States would have catastrophic consequences.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will host a meeting on the military campaign in Myanmar which the UN has described as “ethnic cleansing” after more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee.
The closed-door meeting will be attended by a representative from Myanmar and by foreign ministers from “a range of countries with a strong interest in seeing an end to the violence there”, a British diplomat said.
Ahead of the opening of the General Assembly, UN member-states will discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Irma that devastated parts of the US and the Caribbean.
The hurricane disaster offers a reminder of the destructive force of nature as leaders set their sights on implementing the Paris agreement on climate change despite the US withdrawal from the deal.
Reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press