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President Trump at the UN General Assembly — Making the UN great again?


With President Trump traveling to his old stomping grounds of New York City for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the big question remains: Can anyone predict what the president might say about the future of America’s relationship with other countries and the U.N.?

When in doubt, look no further than the president’s own Twitter feed.

The last time President Trump and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were together just four months ago, the president capped off the meeting with the ultimate stamp of approval: a tweet.

It read: “Just met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres who is working hard to Make the United Nations Great Again. When the UN does more to solve conflicts around the world, it means the U.S. has less to do and we save money. @NikkiHaley is doing a fantastic job!”

There is a lot to dissect in these 260 characters, but they might just be the key to what we can expect the president to say this week at the U.N. General Assembly.{mosads}

First, let’s talk about how U.N. Secretary-General Guterres is “working hard to make the U.N. great again,” with the clear understanding the U.N. has been, and continues to do, great things around the world. 

For example, with global hunger on the rise after years of decline, the U.N. is on the front lines airdropping food to civilians trapped in Syria, feeding starving Venezuelans who have crossed the border into Colombia and Brazil, and rushing to save 5 million children from the brink of famine in Yemen.

It is also the first place the world turns to when peace is under threat. The U.N. deploys the largest military in the world, with over 100,000 soldiers from more than 100 different countries to stabilize war-torn countries like Mali and South Sudan.

Finally, we count on the U.N. to bring together the world’s super powers to impose binding international sanctions against rogue regimes like North Korea. In fact, sanctions will be at the center of a Security Council meeting chaired by Secretary Mike Pompeo on Thursday.

That being said, the secretary-general is committed to making the U.N. even more effective and efficient. Since he took over the organization, he has launched three major reform initiatives around management, development and peace operations — with the last being the centerpiece of a high-level meeting on U.N. peacekeeping taking place on Tuesday.

On to the second part of the tweet: burden-sharing and cost-saving. Getting other countries to step up and pay their fair share has been an administration talking point since Day 1. Expect this to be woven into the president’s speech before the General Assembly on Tuesday, in every bilateral meeting, and perhaps a few presidential tweets throughout the week.

The important thing to remember here is that the U.N. is the poster child for getting others to step up to help on global issues.

Look no further than Monday’s meeting hosted by President Trump on counternarcotics, which will include discussion on the opioid epidemic. The U.N. has already established a global framework that tracks these “precursor chemicals,” which are needed to make the incredibly potent and deadly synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. At this meeting, the U.S. will utilize the U.N.’s convening power to bring new countries along in solving this global scourge. Expect to see the working relationship between President Trump, Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Secretary-General Guterres on full display at this event.

Last but not least, the tweet gives a nod to Ambassador Haley’s leadership in New York. While she may not be center-stage next week due to the president’s attendance, Ambassador Haley has recognized that a policy of “slash and burn” will not advance U.S. priorities on the world stage.

On this point, the American public agrees. Last year, a nationwide poll among registered voters found that seven in ten voters support the U.S. paying our dues to the U.N.

A new poll conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates confirms that 63 percent of young Americans believe the U.N. is supportive of U.S. interests around the world. The poll also found that young Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike favor an “America first, but not alone” approach to U.S. foreign policy over simply putting “America First.” 

Remaining a leader on the global stage will require followers — and not just on Twitter.

If President Trump wants to advance U.S. priorities around the world at the U.N., we need to keep our part of the bargain. This means paying our dues to the organization on time and in full. It means ceasing our retreat from international organizations, and re-engaging with entities like the U.N. Human Rights Council and UNRWA to ensure we can stand up for our allies and live up to our values. And it means doubling down on the secretary-general’s ambitious reform agenda to make sure it succeeds.

Putting aside all the headlines and commotion, it’s important to remember that the issues that preoccupy the minds of Americans — whether it’s the rise of violent extremism, the scourge of opioids, or the attacks on basic human rights and freedoms — will all require help from our friends around the world. Bottom line: The U.N. General Assembly is the place to cultivate ties, not cut them.

As president of the Better World Campaign and senior vice president at the United Nations Foundation, Peter Yeo leads the foundation’s strategic engagement with Congress and the administration to promote a strong U.S.-UN relationship. Prior to arriving at UNF, Yeo served for 10 years as the deputy staff director at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. From 1997-1999, Yeo served as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department, where he led the negotiations around repayment of the U.S. arrears to the United Nations and was part of the U.S. delegation to the climate negotiations in Kyoto.

Tags Antonio Guterres Donald Trump Mike Pompeo Nikki Haley Nikki Haley United Nations

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