President Donald Trump attends the UN General Assembly, which begins on Tuesday, with a heavy bilateral agenda but without the prominence he has had in recent years, overshadowed by the urgency of the climate debate and with no expectation of achieving his long-awaited historic photo with Iran.
Trump will arrive in New York at the last minute and will concentrate his activities between Monday and Wednesday, when he will meet with several Latin American leaders to address the crisis in Venezuela and discuss migration policy with El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.
TRUMP’S EMPTY CHAIRS
For the first time since it opened two years ago, looks in the General Assembly will no longer be as focused on the chairs Trump occupies as on those he leaves empty.
The president will be the great absentee at the UN Climate Action Summit, a high-profile pre-Assembly event that will illustrate once again the US’s isolation in relation to the climate crisis, nor will he be at a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, another idea he does not support.
In an attempt to compete with the climate summit, which will attract dozens of leaders on Monday, Trump has organized his own summit on the same day and in the same UN building.
The theme he has chosen is religious freedom, a priority of his vice president, Evangelical Christian Mike Pence, who will accompany him in this event aimed at asking the world “concrete measures to prevent attacks against people because of their religion,” according to the White House.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres will participate in the event, but the White House has not confirmed any other attendees and leaders from European powers such as France, the United Kingdom and Germany are not expected to attend.
The White House, which has little interest in major multilateral initiatives, does not seem to be concerned about this lack of convening capacity. The real test for Trump will come on Tuesday, when he delivers the third speech of his presidency to the General Assembly.
HYPERBOLE AND LAUGHTER
Trump went through one of the worst moments of his term last year, when the crowded audience of diplomats in the General Assembly reacted with loud laughter to his claim that, since coming to power, he had scored more achievements “than almost any other Government head in the history” of the United States.
Although he surely fears becoming the laughing stock of the UN again, the president does not seem willing to do without hyperbole.
“I will say that the United States is the best country in the world, that it has never been stronger or better and that it has one of the best presidents in our history,” Trump said Thursday.
“The president will defend the sovereignty and independence of member states, especially in matters of national security,” and will profile the United States “as a positive alternative to authoritarianism,” a White House source said.
NO PHOTO WITH IRAN
Until a few days ago, Trump hoped to repeat with Iran the dynamic that marked his first two speeches at the UN regarding North Korea: if in 2017 he threatened to “totally destroy” that country, last year he thanked Pionyang for their willingness to dialogue with him.
But transferring that scheme to Iran has not been easy for him. Last week, Trump fired his national security adviser, John Bolton, partly because he opposed his efforts to secure a meeting in New York with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani.
Trump even considered relaxing sanctions on Tehran, but last week’s attacks on two Saudi refineries radically changed the script: the White House increased its restrictions on Iran and announced the sending of troops to Saudi Arabia.
Although Rohaní had refused to meet with him even before the Gulf attacks, Trump dreamed of copying the covers with a historic photo like the one he took last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and claiming back to the world the image of an infallible negotiator he has of himself.
Instead, Trump will have to make do with a string of bilateral meetngs with the leaders of El Salvador, Egypt, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Poland, Iraq, Ukraine, Pakistan, New Zealand, Singapore, India and Japan.
Although the Elysée announced on Thursday a meeting between Trump and French president, Emmanuel Macron, Washington has ruled out a possible meeting with this leader, who irritated the tenant of the White House by setting himself up as an informal mediator between the US and Iran.