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US-China tensions shadow United Nations meeting

US-China tensions shadow United Nations meeting
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE delivered short, blistering remarks against China at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, highlighting divisions among the world nations amid calls for unity over the coronavirus crisis that has transformed the annual gathering into a largely virtual session. 

The president called for the international body to hold China accountable for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and attacked the World Health Organization as complicit in the crisis with Beijing. 

“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” Trump said in pre-recorded remarks from the White House.

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His statements were immediately rebutted by the Chinese representative to the U.N., Zhang Jun, rejecting “baseless” accusations and arguing for “not spreading of a political virus.”

Zhang was one of dozens of U.N. representatives who sat in socially distant fashion at the largely empty General Assembly Hall at the global body’s headquarters in New York. Pre-recorded remarks by scores of world leaders played on large screens within the hall. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered opening remarks in person, saying from the podium that “the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition” and that the global body faces “a foundational moment” in responding to the worldwide health crisis, economic recession and increasing threats to human rights.  

“In an interconnected world, it is high time to recognize a simple truth: solidarity is self-interest,” he said. “If we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses.”

The secretary-general also raised a warning of the tensions between the U.S. and China, saying “We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.” 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, addressing the body in pre-recorded remarks, called for a calming of tensions with the U.S.

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“We should see each other as members of the same big family, pursue win-win cooperation, and rise above ideological disputes and do not fall into the trap of ‘clash of civilizations,’ ” he said. 

Allies also split with the U.S. over its policies related to Iran, with French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronHard-line Muslim protesters march on French Embassy, hang Macron in effigy Officials arrest new suspect in France church attack, security alert heightened Suspect of Nice, France killings came to country from Italy MORE slamming the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions on Tehran. 

Macron rejected efforts by the U.S. to reimpose U.N. sanctions despite its exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the 2015 Obama-era nuclear deal between Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. 

“The strategy of maximum pressure brought to bear over recent years has not made it possible to put an end to the destabilizing activities of Iran,” Macron said.

“This is why France, along with its German and British partners, will maintain its demand for the full implementation of the 2015 Vienna Agreement and will not accept the violations committed by Iran," he added. 

Trump announced he was reimposing sanctions on Iran last week in an effort to block the October expiration of an arms embargo on Iran under the JCPOA.

Macron on Tuesday called for an international response to Iran’s ballistic missile activities and its destabilizing actions in the region.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pushed back on the U.S. in his remarks to the general assembly and rejected that the Trump administration’s sanctions campaign would open dialogue.

“The United States can impose neither negotiations nor war on us,” he said. 

Trump’s recent brokering of official diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also drew reaction from world leaders.

Brazil’s far-right and populist President Jair Bolsanaro praised the agreements as “excellent news.”

Bolsonaro, who is frequently compared to Trump in his actions and hyperbole and attacked the media in his own remarks to the general assembly, further put his support behind the president’s “Peace to Prosperity Plan” for settling the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, saying it “features a promising vision” to resolve the conflict. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered critical remarks, slamming Trump’s proposal for peace, saying the so-called “deal of the century” was a “document of surrender” for Palestinians and categorized Israel as a “dirty hand” reaching into Jerusalem. 

Tuesday marked the first major plenary day of the virtual forum, which will continue on Wednesday, but had little theatrical props or live crowd reactions that have defined previous sessions.

In a sign of the times, technical difficulties momentarily cut off Bolsonaro’s remarks, his video going black before being restarted. The rest of the day went off without any other major technological hiccups.