Trump plans to address United Nations General Assembly in person

Ryan Heath

President Donald Trump is likely to be the only world leader speaking live from New York at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) debate, scheduled to take place Sept. 22 to 25.

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told a virtual event this morning that Trump would be “the only world leader to be speaking in person,” noting that “this is the 75th anniversary (of the U.N.), so it makes it even more special.”.

The United Nations will be holding its biggest annual event virtually this year, with up to 190 world leaders delivering speeches via pre-recorded video message, instead of descending on New York City with their entourages.

As host country of the U.N. headquarters during the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States has a unique opportunity to hold center-stage at an organization President Trump has consistently derided, and which at times has returned the favor. Other world leaders have openly laughed at his speeches and been witness to awkward moments, ranging from Trump announcing to leaders that he could “totally destroy” North Korea, to a spat with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Nevertheless, the U.N. depends on American money to continue many of its operations: The United States provides 22 percent of the body’s regular funding, annually. President Trump recently made waves by formally beginning U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, the U.N. health agency, criticizing its Covid-19 response and labeling it a mouthpiece for China. The U.S. is one of 88 countries that has not yet paid its 2020 U.N. dues in full.

Craft said that America’s priorities during the 2020 General Assembly would be “human rights and transparency” and that in the absence of world leaders, hundreds of UNGA side events will either move online or take place later in 2020.

U.N. General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres have been “extremely careful at mitigating this virus within the U.N. system,” Craft said.

Craft has been taking her diplomacy beyond the confines of the U.N. Security Council — the highest level U.N. decision-making body at which the U.S. has a permanent seat — during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Since we have been sheltering in place, I used that time to start calling 185 of the ambassadors, just to check on people,” Craft said. Craft’s advisers has originally wanted her to conduct her diplomacy speed-dating tour during the first weeks of her tenure in mid-2019.

Craft said ambassadors from smaller countries were “shocked” to receive her call, but said they were “very responsive,” helping to create “a special bond” that the U.S. would find useful in its efforts to reform the U.N.