The United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders will kick off on Monday with a U.S.-hosted event attended by world leaders and senior officials from more than 100 countries, and most everyone is anticipating the moment President Trump makes his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. In the past, the president has had harsh words for the worldwide organization.
During his March 2016 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference, then-candidate Trump talked about the “utter weakness and incompetence of the United Nations.”
He stated, “The United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It’s not a friend to freedom. It’s not a friend even to the United States of America, where, as you know, it has its home. And it surely is not a friend to Israel.”
Indeed, President Trump’s campaign promised an “America First” agenda, which conflicts with the UN’s goals of multilateralism. His promotion of interrogation techniques “worse than waterboarding,” his push for a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the U.S., and his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement have also put Trump at odds with UN allies.
Last December, Trump tweeted: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now, it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
In addition to the president, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday will deliver speeches on U.N. overhauls focused on better efficiency, transparency and management, diplomats said.
While Guterres and Trump are at odds regarding issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, they appear to agree on the need to make the U.N. more effective and influential, diplomats said.
The U.S. is the top financial contributor to the U.N., donating 28.5% of the $7.3 billion peacekeeping budget and 22% of its core budget of $5.4 billion. The U.S. is conducting a mission-by-mission review of the U.N.’s 16 peacekeeping operations and lobbied to slash $600 million this year from the peacekeeping budget, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Guterres said he has two priorities for overhauls: establishment of an advisory board on mediation to work toward conflict prevention and improving gender parity at the U.N.
The U.S. and other critics say the organization’s archaic bureaucracy and management style hinder its operations, from humanitarian assistance to day-to-day field and office functions. The U.S. has also complained about U.N.’s costs, arguing some of its work within various organizations overlaps.
“All the efforts I’ve been making until now are in the direction of trying to create conditions for the relationship between the United States and the United Nations to be a constructive relationship,” said Guterres.
Reviews and overhauls must take place, said Haley, if the U.S. is to continue financial donations and engagement in areas such as peacekeeping and human rights.
The U.N. “is totally moving toward reform,” she told CNN on Sunday. “We said that we needed to get value for our dollar and what we’re finding is the international community is right there with us in support of reform, so it is a new day at the U.N.”
The U.S. drafted a 10-point document, the “U.N. Reform Declaration,” and asked member states to sign it before attending Monday’s event, diplomats said. More than 100 out of 193 member states did so.
The declaration reportedly combines the U.S.’s agenda for change—including a commitment to reduce redundancy within U.N. organizations—with Guterres’s vision for management and bureaucratic overhauls.
In the declaration, countries will “commit to reducing mandate duplication, redundancy, and overlap including among the main organs of the United Nations.” The signatories encourage Guterres to “pursue impactful and field-centric management reforms,” the document read.
Guterres campaigned to lead the U.N. on a platform to modernize the organization.
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