Editor’s Note: Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She was on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
To help you prepare for the UN General Assembly meeting this week, we’re providing some scene setting analysis in our presidential weekly briefing.
Several major players won’t be there, but their presence will undoubtedly be felt. Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin are attending, but they will try to shape events from afar.
Putin will do this through his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, whom you’ll see at the UN Security Council meeting you’re chairing and possibly at a bilateral meeting. Expect Lavrov to parrot his boss. He’ll likely try to get you to praise Putin and push for a second meeting for you two – all while your team chastises Russia for any number of its malign actions.
Russia wants schisms between you and your team, so the more Lavrov can get you to praise Russia by talking about your special relationship, while your team points to Russia’s problematic behavior, the better it is for Putin.
China, like Russia, has a seat on the Security Council. The Chinese are miffed that you sanctioned them for buying Russian weapons, our ongoing trade war and more, so you should probably expect them to make some noise when you chair the Security Council meeting Wednesday.
And don’t forget Kim Jong Un, who will not be traveling to New York (yet). But Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will meet with the North Korean foreign minister. And despite his absence, Kim will probably be the talk of the town – what he wants, what he needs and what he’ll do next.
Bad boys club: What a difference a year makes
The General Assembly bad boys club will look a little different this year, with 2017’s all-star player, Kim, likely absent from the lineup.
Last year, you spoke about rogue regimes with the “most destructive weapons known to humanity” – a clear reference to North Korea – but there are now low expectations you’ll even acknowledge North Korea’s illegal stockpile of weapons of mass destruction because you’re focused on praising Kim instead.
With North Korea’s hasty departure from the global pariah list, and your decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, reimpose sanctions on Iran and launch a public campaign against the regime, General Assembly participants probably expect your fire and fury will be honed more squarely at Tehran.
The Iranians are likely finalizing their public and private points against you, so you should expect a war of words. They probably want to draw you into a public display of disaffection because it will give the regime something (or someone) to blame, and they can continue to try to redirect domestic discontent toward you rather than their own bad policies.
The Palestinians may expect to be on your bad boys’ list. Your decision to cut funding to the Palestinians, close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and statements by your team criticizing the Palestinian Authority mean that Arab countries are thinking about how to respond to any additional US attacks on the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, will encourage you to call out the Iranians (as he did last year) and Palestinians while simultaneously praising you for being the best friend that Israel could have.
The UN: Body shaming
Based on your previous negative comments about the United Nations and your video message this weekend saying it doesn’t live up to its potential, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and others are probably expecting you to shame the body further. They may be worried about a US withdrawal from the United Nations or at least some more of its main bodies, especially because the United States has pulled out of UNESCO and announced it would be canceling all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency – the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees – in addition to threatening to walk away from the World Trade Organization and International Criminal Court.
Guterres has said he “would do everything possible to avoid” the United States pulling out any further, so he’ll probably reference your success achieving cuts to the UN budget and reforms to UN peace and security operations as a way to keep you invested in improving the United Nations.
Funding: It’s all about the Benjamins
The focus of this year’s General Assembly is on “shared responsibilities” and attendees know that you really like getting other countries to pay more so we can pay less on stabilization in Syria and the NATO alliance, for example. As the largest single contributor to the UN regular budget and peacekeeping operations, you likely have your peers bracing for the possibility you will ask them to shoulder more of the UN budget, even though UN contributions aren’t arbitrary but are based on factors such as gross national income and per capita income levels.
Attendees know that you’ve tweeted you want US foreign assistance to go toward “the U.S., our military and countries that help us!” US money is now probably viewed as a reward for good behavior rather than money that is allocated when and where there is a need. Guterres has cited the decrease in US “soft power,” and it’s likely your new approach to foreign assistance may be a contributing factor to this phenomenon, at least in Guterres’ eyes.
Squad goals: Every country has an agenda
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will probably press you to play ball with him and Kim on the heels of their recent summit. He’s reportedly carrying a message to you from Kim. The Kim-Moon squad goals will likely include getting you to make some “corresponding measures” – such as formally declaring an end to the Korean War – before Kim actually takes steps to denuclearize.
When you meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, you should expect them to have some clearly articulated goals related to Iran and sanction waivers. May and other European Union members are in the middle of a messy Brexit divorce, but they do still agree that the Iran deal should be salvaged, at least to some extent, and think the full restoration of US sanctions in November would be the nail in its coffin.
Many General Assembly attendees may be wondering, however, whether you’re a team player. The unilateral approach that you have applied to foreign policy decisions – such as to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, leaving the Iran deal and Paris climate accord, walking out of the UN Human Rights Committee, and more, suggest you think going it alone is preferable to diplomacy with other countries.
The more that changes, the more that stays the same
War still rages on in Syria and Yemen, 68.5 million people are displaced around the world, and humanitarian disasters abound.
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While the need for foreign assistance and other kinds of support – such as accepting refugees and migrants – hasn’t changed, your peers are likely aware you have lowered the ceiling for US refugee admissions to 30,000 for the coming fiscal year and boycotted the UN company on migration. They may assess you are either indifferent to the plight of those in need or consider them a low priority.