What Matters at the U.N. General Assembly/ Stratfor 19.09.16
Fighting in Syria and Ukraine, security coalitions in the South China Sea
and political upheaval in Libya are just some of the things to be discussed
at the gathering this week. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)
World leaders are converging on New York City for the United Nations General
Assembly meeting, which is set to officially begin Sept. 20. The following
are the key players and bilateral meetings we will be watching this week:
Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping the summit so he can oversee
the results of the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections and prepare for a budget
battle in the Kremlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will instead
be the main Russian player to watch in New York. Last week, Moscow was busy
setting the next stage for its broader negotiation with the West in
implementing cease-fires in Syria and Ukraine, two theaters that require
Russian collaboration for de-escalation. However, the Syrian cease-fire has
effectively collapsed, and the Ukrainian cease-fire remains on shaky ground.
Lavrov is nonetheless expected to advance the dialogue with the West to
exchange cooperation in Syria and Ukraine for concessions, such as easing
sanctions when the Europeans vote on trade restrictions on Russia early next
Specifically, Lavrov will be holding meetings throughout the General
Assembly with representatives from the United States, France, Germany and
the United Kingdom and will likely press his Western counterparts to
persuade Kiev to deliver on political concessions in eastern Ukraine.
Meetings between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and U.S. President
Barack Obama, as well as between Poroshenko and U.S. presidential candidate
Hillary Clinton, both scheduled for Sept. 21, will therefore be important to
watch. Poroshenko, for his part, will try to persuade the West to maintain
pressure on Russia in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, particularly through
sanctions. (Poroshenko already met with the French and German foreign
ministers in Kiev recently.) A possible meeting between Poroshenko and U.S.
Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland could also provide clues on the
status of this negotiation.
Obama, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Francois
Hollande and Lavrov are scheduled to meet Sept. 21 to discuss Syria. This
meeting is supposed to focus on the progress, or lack thereof, of the
current cease-fire so far. On Sept. 20, Obama will present to the assembly a
new U.S. plan to resettle more than 100,000 refugees, 40,000 of whom are
from the Middle East and South Asia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
will meanwhile tout the efforts his country has made to manage the migrant
situation in Syria and will try to lobby for greater international support
for its plans to create a safe zone in northern Syria. With or without
international endorsement, the Turkish military is forging southward to the
strategic city of al-Bab, relying on close coordination with the U.S.
military to mitigate any potential clash with Russia on the battlefield.
The General Assembly will offer an opportunity for several world leaders to
get a sense of the policies the winner of the U.S. presidential election may
enact. Leaders from the Asia-Pacific region are particularly uncertain over
just how committed Washington will be to security and trade in the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Clinton on Sept. 19,
likely looking for any assurances he can get that the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) will not be fundamentally renegotiated before it moves
ahead for ratification in the Japanese legislature. (Vietnam has already
decided to delay ratification.) The United States and Japan will discuss
greater security cooperation in the South China Sea - and potential Chinese
responses to it. After all, Japan recently pledged to participate in U.S.
exercises in the South China Sea, and it is watching carefully for any
Chinese provocations in the East China Sea as a result. North Korea will be
on the agenda, too, as Pyongyang continues to accelerate its nuclear
program, driving tighter U.S.-Japanese-South Korean security integration.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will represent Beijing at the summit and will
meet with Obama on Sept. 19. The United States has sought tougher measures
on North Korea, including unilateral sanctions, but Beijing is concerned
that such measures would only make it more difficult to engage Pyongyang
diplomatically. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, meanwhile, arrived
in New York on Sept. 18 and held talks with his counterparts from the United
States and South Korea. The three parties discussed ways to strengthen their
respective sanctions against North Korea and agreed for early adoption for
U.N. Security Council resolution on additional sanctions. At a bilateral
meeting, Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se also
discussed the issue of comfort women, a key sticking point that has hampered
closer cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo. Kishida will meet officials from
G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the
United States) on the sidelines of U.N. meetings to discuss North Korea's
nuclear and missile developments. Kishida is also seeking talks with his
peers from Brazil, India and Germany on Sept. 21
The foreign ministers of the six world powers (the United Kingdom, China,
France, Germany, Russia and the United States) will discuss the Iran nuclear
agreement on Sept. 22 with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and,
possibly, President Hassan Rouhani. It has already been determined that both
sides are upholding the technical requirements of the deal. The primary
concern for Iranian officials is performing for a domestic audience that is
unhappy with the amount of economic progress that has been made since
sanctions were lifted in accordance with the agreement. Consequently, some
pushback against the United States is to be expected. When Rouhani addresses
the General Assembly he will be playing primarily to his domestic audience,
which is why an unconfirmed meeting with Obama would bolster Rouhani's image
at home, even if nothing substantial results from it. It is only a matter of
months before Rouhani is up for re-election, and the determining factor is
the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the benefits evident to all
Iranians. Meanwhile, U.S. election rhetoric surrounding the Iranian nuclear
issue and calls by U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump to renegotiate
the deal and take a harder line against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
navy provocations in the Strait of Hormuz is empowering Iran's own
On Sept. 22, there will be a side meeting between foreign ministers on
devising the optimal international response to Libya's political and
security crisis. But this meeting is less important than meetings in Cairo
that have sought to determine the structure of potential leadership
councils. Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Faiz Serraj is
attending the General Assembly and is seeking to gather as much
international support for the unity government as possible. Egyptian
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is speaking in support of resolving the
political crises in Libya and Yemen as well, but Egypt's support for Khalifa
Hifter reveals that Egypt (as well as the United Arab Emirates) prefers the
former general's Libyan National Army to confront Islamist militias in the
North African country.
India and Pakistan will also be worth observing during the General Assembly
meeting. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - scheduled to speak Sept. 21
- plans on drawing attention to the self-determination movement in
India-administered Kashmir following months of deadly protests in the
capital of Srinagar. Sharif's task will be complicated by a terrorist attack
that took place Sept. 18, when four militants allegedly from Pakistan killed
18 Indian soldiers in an army base in the border town of Uri. India
immediately accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism, and it is likely that
the Indian delegation will press this point during the meeting, though
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not attend.
Finally, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will host a gathering on Sept.
21 to encourage ratification of the Paris climate agreement. The United
States and China have already ratified it, bringing the agreement much
closer to the threshold for emissions, but 55 countries still need to sign
on, meaning this meeting could determine whether or not the deal will go
through by the end of 2016. However, if India does not send a
representative, it would be notable because the country is one of the
largest emitters (and the flag-bearer of developing countries) that has not
ratified the agreement. While ratifying the agreement by the end of 2016
would reveal global opinion on climate change, the pact is still limited in
its ability to alter policy. Instead, financial support and technological
advances making alternative technologies more economically competitive will
be required to reduce emissions.
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