The 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, being held from September 12-25, was expected to be different. Simply because this was the first meeting for Donald Trump, perhaps the most unconventional US President, the world has seen.
In fact, his blunt views on the UN had put the credibility of the world-body itself in question. On December 26, 2016, when he was President-elect, Trump had tweeted, “the United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Before that on December 23, 2016, he had warned, “as to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th,” pointing to the change in the offing from the day he would take office.
These meant that when the 193-member United Nations convened on September 19 for the annual General Assembly speeches and high-level meetings, apart from all these countries, the UN itself was keen to know if the world’s most powerful leader and its largest funder had changed or at least softened his hard stand.
Solace for UN
Thankfully for the UN, as on many other issues, Trump views on the world-body too had mellowed. In his short remarks at a forum on UN reforms, which were a precursor to the main event, he prodded the international organisation to cut its bloated bureaucracy and fulfil its mission but pledged continued US support for it.
“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential due to bureaucracy and mismanagement,” Trump said. “We are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”
He urged the UN to focus “more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to change “business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past which were not working.”
The President’s more measured tone stood in sharp contrast to the approach he took at Nato’s new Brussels headquarters in May, when he scolded member nations for not paying enough and refused to explicitly back its mutual defence pact.
The UN is a place where diplomacy rules and world leaders couch even their harshest comments in niceties. Trump was expected to change that and put it all straight and blunt.
Unlike his views on the UN which had significantly mellowed, on others he stayed true to expectations. His maiden address to the UN General Assembly was unlike any ever delivered by a US president, his language far blunter than any of his predecessors and it easily overtook George W Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech in 2002.
Speaking at the organisation, whose core mission is world peace, Trump said that the “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,’’ and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea”. The threat was not against the regime in the rogue nation but it was North Korea itself as a country that was in danger. No American president before has ever openly threatened to destroy any country from the podium of the UN.
The other two countries that bore the brunt of Trump were Iran and Venezuela. So, Iraq was dropped from the new ‘Axis of Evil’ and replaced by Venezuela.
Iran got it for backing Hezbollah militia in Lebanon but more importantly for the nuclear deal that it had signed in 2015 with six nations, including the US. Trump called the nuclear deal an ‘embarrassment’ for the US and after a long time revived the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ He promised to exterminate terrorists worldwide as some regions of the world are ‘going to hell.’
Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro got the stick for his socialist policies and erosion of its democracy. “The socialist dictatorship” of Maduro “is completely unacceptable,” and “we cannot stand by and watch,” Trump told the General Assembly. “The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing” he said, adding that he would implement “calibrated sanctions on the socialist regime in Venezuela.”
Moreover, Trump did not bother to mention climate change, which is among the biggest concerns facing the world.
Apart from Trump, the Assembly also marked the debut of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) as chief of the United Nations.
In fact, the meeting opened with a state-of-the-world speech by Guterres, in which he spotlighted several threats – including the nuclear peril, climate change and ongoing conflicts – that must be overcome to create a better world for all.
Making a strong case for peace, he said, “We are a world in pieces. We need to be a world at peace.” Turning his attention on terrorism, the Secretary-General stressed the need to address the roots of radicalisation. “It is not enough to fight terrorists on the battlefield,” he said.
He also warned that “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” appealing for a measured approach to various issues. Ironically, Trump, whose speech came next, does not seem have heard any of it.
Pakistan on Track
Pakistan continued on its beaten path this year too. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in his maiden address said that while “Pakistan remains open to resuming a comprehensive dialogue with India to address all outstanding issues, especially Kashmir, and discuss measures to maintain peace and security, but this dialogue must be accompanied by an end to India’s campaign of subversion and state-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan, including from across our western border.”
He further added that “as India is unwilling to resume the peace process with Pakistan, we call on the Security Council to fulfil its obligation to secure the implementation of its own resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir. To this end, the UN Secretary-General should appoint a special envoy on Kashmir.”
India Hits Back
As expected, India reacted strongly. Eenam Gambhir, First Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, taking the floor to exercise the right of reply to Pakistan said, “In its short history, Pakistan has become geography synonymous with terror. The quest for a land of pure has actually produced ‘the land of pure terror’. Pakistan is now Terroristan, with a flourishing industry producing and exporting global terrorism.”
When Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Affairs Minister, responds be sure to hear more on Terroristan.
(With inputs from AP)