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At UN, Trump to face questions about Iran, Ukraine, allies 

New York, September 23

Faced with growing tumult at home and abroad, President Donald Trump heads into his three-day visit to the United Nations this week hoping to lean on strained alliances while fending off questions about whether he sought foreign help to damage a political rival.

Trump’s latest UN trip comes after nearly three years of an “America First” foreign policy that has unsettled allies and shredded multinational pacts.

A centerpiece of this year’s UN schedule will be a Monday session on climate change that Trump plans to skip.

Instead, he will address a meeting about the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians, an issue that resonates with Trump’s evangelical supporters.

The president arrived in New York on Sunday against a backdrop of swirling international tensions, including questions about his relationship with Ukraine, the uncertain future of Brexit, the U.S. trade war with China, stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea and a weakening global economy. 

The most immediate challenge may be Iran.

Trump will try to convince skeptical global capitals to help build a coalition to confront Tehran after the United States blamed it for last week’s strike at a Saudi Arabia oil field.

“Well, I always like a coalition,” Trump said Friday, before going on to complain that under the old Iran nuclear deal, “everyone else is making money and we’re not.”            

Trump’s fulfilment of a campaign promise to exit the Iran nuclear deal has had wide ripple effects, leading Tehran to bolster its nuclear capabilities and dismaying European capitals who worked to establish the original agreement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, has been trying to lead Trump back to a deal and has suggested that the US President meet with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN meetings.

Trump said Sunday that while “nothing is ever off the table completely” he had no intention of meeting with Rouhani.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran spiked after a Saudi Arabia oil field was partially destroyed in an attack that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed on Iran and deemed “an act of war.” Now Trump will try to enlist wary world leaders in a collective effort to contain Iran.

“He needs to win over traditional allies to do what traditional allies do, to band together against common threats,” said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The attacks last weekend in Saudi Arabia are precisely the kind of thing that the UN was intended to address, to create rules for international behavior and opportunities for collective action.”

Ukraine also looms large on Trump’s schedule. Even one week ago, a one-on-one meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy would have been seen largely as an afterthought.

But Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with Zelenskiy will come just days after revelations that the president urged his Ukrainian counterpart in a July phone call to investigate the activities of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump said he was concerned about corruption; Democrats frame his actions as an effort to pressure Zelenskiy to dig up damaging material on a potential 2020 rival.

That pressure is the subject of a whistleblower’s complaint that the administration has refused to turn over to members of Congress, setting up a showdown with Democrats.

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