Donald Trump brings trimming shears to UN debut

Donald Trump brings trimming shears to UN debut
From Al Jazeera - September 17, 2017

New York City - The annual United Nations confab of world leaders in September usually starts with a push on some lofty goal, such as tackling poverty or climate change.

That is not on the cards for the first UN General Assembly (UNGA) for United States President Donald Trump.

Instead, the focus on Monday will be the dour topic of UN reform - part of Washington's drive to cut some flab off the world body and reduce the multi-billion dollar price tag it pays each year to keep the blue flag flying in midtown Manhattan.

Trump has previously written off the UN as a "club" for "people to have a good time", prompting fears that tightening purse strings would leave needy people in South Sudan, Congo, and other hotspots without aid and blue-helmet backup.

Though UN reform is the centrepiece, delegates will inevitably get side-tracked by more urgent headaches: the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar, North Korean nuclear arms, and the rift between Qatar and its Arab neighbours.

All the while, paparazzi will hunt Trump and his counterparts from France, Emmanuel Macron, and Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Every eye-roll will be captured, not least when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share the room.

A lot hangs on how Trump behaves, said Courtney Smith, a New Jersey-based UN specialist at Seton Hall University.

The billionaire's "unpredictable" and "inconsistent" diplomacy has left foreign statesmen wondering whether "America First" puts them last.

"Will it be a Trump who wants to engage the UN and talk about issues that can be solved together, or a Trump who's confrontational and critical?" Smith told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: Decoding Donald Trump's body language at the G7 Summit

UN insiders are mindful of Trump's diplo-gaffes so far.

At NATO talks in May, he shoved past Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to reach a photo-op.

In July, he famously breached protocol by letting his daughter, Ivanka, take his chair at a meeting of G20 world leaders in Hamburg, Germany.

Jon Alterman, a former state department official, likens UNGA to "speed dating from hell".

A gruelling marathon of agenda-driven 15-minute sit-downs with presidents and princes does not suit free-wheelers like Trump.

Washington's UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, said pressure from the Trump administration was already ushering in a "new day" as the world body is kicked into gear.

Nowadays "it's not just about talking, it's about action", she said.

She may be delivering results. This month, Haley got a sceptical Russia and China to sign off on the toughest sanctions yet against North Korea; and cut $600m off the UN's peacekeeping budget in June, reducing US dues by 7.5 percent.

The acid test comes on Monday when Trump and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres deliver keynotes on UN reform.

Haley said 120 countries have signed on to US plans to streamline the UN's clunky 72-year-old bureaucracy.

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is on board. He said he seeks a "constructive relationship" with Washington - the biggest UN contributor, which covers 22 percent of its core $5.4bn budget and 28.5 percent of the $7.3bn peacekeeping budget.

Old game


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