Although Biden arrives the UN with "the wind at his back," concerns still exist as Russia's conflict in Ukraine continues.
Image Credit : REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Joe Biden comes to the green-marbled United Nations platform on Wednesday, ready to claim renewed American leadership on Ukraine and the environment, despite the fact that the combined consequences of a protracted conflict and economic instability have created a gloomy atmosphere among world leaders.
Biden's second UN General Assembly address is an opportunity for him to highlight the US-led effort to support Ukraine and punish Russia for its aggression, as well as a new, historic commitment in tackling climate change.
After delivering his first UN address in the shadow of a chaotic Afghanistan pullout and stymied domestic objectives, Biden returns with a stronger hand.
"We anticipate the President will travel to New York with the wind at his back," White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.
Even as Biden declares renewed US leadership, deeper doubts remain about his capacity to hold that position in the coming years, as the possibility of a global recession looms and threats to American democracy fester.
In recent weeks, Biden has spent much time emphasizing those risks, largely for a home audience but also for international capitals listening carefully. In recent remarks, he has described sitting around a table at last year's Group of Seven conference in Cornwall, England, assuring world leaders that "America is back."
According to Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron asked him, "For how long?"
Even a year and a half into his presidency, that uncertainty still lingers over Biden's efforts on the global stage, as his predecessor maintains power over the Republican Party and prepares to compete for President again. In an interview aired Sunday, Biden stated that while he expects to run for reelection, a final decision "remains to be seen."
One of the current concerns at the center of global affairs — the agonizing talks to restart the Iran nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew — only emphasizes the impact of American leadership pendulum swings.
For Biden, the annual UN address is just another attempt to explain to the world how he has maneuvered the United States back into a position of leadership following Donald Trump's "America First" years.
According to Sullivan, he would give a "strong denunciation of Russia's unlawful conflict in Ukraine" in it, as well as "a call to the world to continue to stand against the brazen aggression that we've witnessed these last few months."
He also intends to make "major new announcements" to tackle food hunger and "set out in detail how the United States has reclaimed its global leadership and the integrity of its word on the global arena," according to Sullivan.
Following his remarks, Biden will conduct a pledge session for the Global Fund to Fight HIV, AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Biden and the first lady will host a leaders' event at the American Museum of Natural History in the evening.
The program for this week was thrown into disarray as world leaders gathered in London for Queen Elizabeth II's burial, one of the greatest meetings of heads of state in recent memory. Many people travelled from London to New York for the UN conference.
Biden's speech was moved up a day from its customary Tuesday morning time slot. Unlike previous years, when the UN General Assembly was reduced in size owing to Covid-19, this year's gathering will be held in full.
Biden and his staff had been working on the speech for many weeks, during which time Ukraine has successfully retaken some Russian-held territory after months of occupation. The campaign was coordinated with American authorities, including increased information and intelligence exchange, and was supported by armament given by the US and its allies.
US officials have emphasized that Ukraine's present achievements do not necessarily indicate a larger shift in the war's outlook, which remains likely to be a protracted fight. Two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine announced preparations for referendums on officially joining Russia a day before Biden's address, which the US has previously warned would be "shams."
One of Biden's goals for his address on Wednesday will be to emphasize the need of preserving unity among Western allies in backing Ukraine in the coming months.
This attempt is complicated by an impending energy crisis, as Russia restricts natural gas supply to Europe as winter approaches. Higher expenses, exacerbated in part by harsh Western sanctions on Moscow, have resulted in an economic disaster that has caused political upheaval for several officials in Biden's alliance, including himself.
Later Wednesday, the President will meet with one of these leaders, British Prime Minister Liz Truss. It will be their first formal in-person meeting since Truss took office earlier this month following the resignation of her predecessor, Boris Johnson.
She inherited a profound economic crisis caused by rising inflation and skyrocketing energy costs, raising concerns that the UK could shortly enter a lengthy recession. While few in Biden's administration wept over Johnson's retirement — Biden famously labeled him as Trump's "physical and emotional clone" — the US and UK were closely unified in their approach to Russia during his leadership.
Officials at the White House anticipate that collaboration will continue under Truss, even as she faces pressure to relieve domestic economic strains.
Less certain is whether Truss's tough stance on Brexit would damage relations with Biden. The President has expressed a personal interest in the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement requiring additional inspections on goods transiting between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The restrictions were enacted in order to maintain the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open and to prevent a return to sectarian bloodshed. Truss, on the other hand, has tried to modify those guidelines, creating widespread concern in both Brussels and Washington.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is not anticipated to attend this year's General Assembly in person, although his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in attendance. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also stated that he will not attend the UN General Assembly this year.
As relations with the West worsen, the two dictatorial presidents, who met in person last week, have strengthened connections between their nations. Biden has cautioned Xi not to back Putin's invasion of Ukraine, a point he is likely to emphasize in his speech on Wednesday.
Putin and Xi's absence highlights the limitations of UN-sponsored forums in resolving the world's most pressing issues. Russia, which holds permanent seats on the UN Security Council, has delayed accepting resolutions on Syria and Ukraine, resulting in inactivity.
Under the Biden administration, efforts to change the Security Council have gained traction, albeit the chances of breaking the body's impasse are limited. Biden's advisers are still debating how exactly he would address the United States' desire to change the Security Council during his visit to the UN this week, but he is anticipated to express his views at least privately with other leaders.
"We are dedicated to finding a way forward to make the United Nations fit for purpose in the twenty-first century." And there is presently an attack on the UN system. The charter is under threat. "And that is by a permanent member of the Security Council," Biden's UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.
"I can't alter the fact that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council," she told Jake Tapper, "but I can continue the efforts that we have succeeded in, which is isolating them, criticizing them, and making sure that they know and realize it's not business as usual."