(Bloomberg) — The U.S.-Iran showdown moves to Manhattan this week as about 200 world leaders and thousands of diplomats converge on New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly.
President Donald Trump will speak from the UN podium on Tuesday morning — and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could be front and center for his speech. Iran’s delegation has second-row seats in the auditorium, although Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif could choose to avoid the assembly hall or walk out just before Trump begins.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be looking to promote the U.K. as a great place to invest in a post-Brexit world, once he sorts out how the divorce from the European Union will unfold. Ireland’s prime minister arrives with his nation potentially facing the most collateral damage from a messy Brexit, and he doesn’t want to see EU leaders capitulate under pressure to the U.K.
Like at every General Assembly, much of the real news will emerge on the fringes of official events as diplomats take advantage of the critical mass of leaders to hold around-the-clock meetings, attend cocktail parties and shop.
Along the way, visiting delegations will snarl Manhattan’s traffic and scoop up the best restaurant reservations. New Yorkers who have been through this before know it’s easier to work from home or head out of town entirely. For those who stay, here’s what’s coming:
Iran Tensions High as U.S. Raises Sanctions, Zarif Warns of War
Talk of a historic Trump-Rouhani summit on the UN sidelines has largely died, but allies of both sides will be shuttling back and forth in an effort to broker a deal that at least lowers the risk of military conflict and, perhaps, eases the path toward some sort of diplomatic solution following strikes on Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. blames on Iran.
For now, the U.S. and Iran are dug in: Trump moved to tighten sanctions on Iran’s central bank and modestly bolster Saudi defenses last week while saying his military restraint demonstrates strength. Zarif has warned of “all-out war” if Saudi or U.S. forces strike Iran and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ruled out direct talks with Trump, who has tried to keep his options open.
“Nothing is ever off the table completely, but I have no intention of meeting with Iran,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.” Zarif, speaking to reporters in New York on Monday, said he’s received no request for talks and “we’re making clear a request will not be possible at this time” without U.S. concessions.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for calm last week, saying “This is the moment to cool tensions, and nowhere is that more important than in the Gulf.”
Climate Change summit gets skip from U.S., Brazil leaders
Guterres is hosting leaders including France’s Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit Monday as he seeks to boost global commitments to reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuel. “Let’s face it, we are losing the race against climate change,” Guterres said.
The biggest no-shows: Trump, who quit the Paris climate accord in 2017, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose country contains a huge swath of the Amazon forest. Bolsonaro and Macron had a trans-Atlantic feud last month amid a flurry of reports about the burning Amazon. Bolsonaro plans to use his UN speech on Tuesday to punch back at critics who say he doesn’t care about the environment, while asserting Brazil’s sovereignty over the rain forest.
Trump seldom surrenders the spotlight, especially in his home town: During the climate summit, he’ll spend part of the day hosting an event on religious freedom.
Bibi joins Xi and Putin in staying home after election setback
For only the second time in a decade, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t address the assembly. His colorful and combative history at the UN dates back to era when the annual event featured outsized personalities riffing from the General Assembly hall — Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez sniffing “sulfur” on the stage and Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi decamping to his Bedouin tent.
Last week’s election in Israel cast a pall over Netanyahu’s political future, and the one-time UN envoy is fighting to remain his nation’s longest-serving prime minister. He’s the most surprising of the no-shows, along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Leaders seek face time with Trump on trade, Korea, refugees
Beyond giving them time at the UN podium, the General Assembly gives world leaders the opportunity to score face time with Trump as he seeks re-election next year. Over the course of three days, he plans to meet leaders of the U.K., Singapore, India, Pakistan, Poland, Egypt, South Korea, Iraq, Japan, Ukraine and El Salvador.
Japan’s Shinzo Abe wants to put the finishing touches on a trade deal with the U.S., while South Korean President Moon Jae-in will seek to lure North Korean and U.S. negotiators back to long-stalled talks over Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be looking for the president’s support in his bid to send home at least 1 million Syrian refugees.
NYPD sends thousands out to guard leaders, direct traffic
New York’s finest bear the heaviest burden during UNGA, working with the U.S. Secret Service to guard hundreds of leaders, guiding motorcades through jammed intersections and staying on high alert for terror attacks.
The challenge goes well beyond the UN event. The New York Yankees are heading to the baseball playoffs with four games on their schedule this week, and police will be out in force guarding synagogues during Rosh Hashanah next week as the UN summit winds down.
“It’s a huge responsibility for sure, but no one handles the assortment of large organized events and traditional crime fighting, coupled with the constant threat of terrorism, better than the NYPD,” New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill told reporters. “Absolutely no one.”
(Updates to add Zarif comments on U.S. meeting in Iran section.)
–With assistance from Simone Iglesias, Robert Hutton and Josh Wingrove.
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