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UN session opening contrasts with last year’s N. Korean crisis

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Potentates have converged in New York for the 73rd UN General Assembly.

The annual rite of Autumn brings together world leaders from 193 member states to discuss and hopefully try to solve key global crises ranging from the wars in Syria and Yemen, to the pressing refugee tragedies in Burma and the Middle East.

GenAssThe role of proactive diplomacy in solving current crises and, as importantly, preventive diplomacy in averting new outbreaks, will be highlighted in the upcoming ten-day debate.

Addressing the General Debate session of the Assembly, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres conceded, “Our world is suffering from a case of ‘Trust deficit disorder.’ People are feeling troubled and insecure. Trust is at the breaking point. Trust in national institutions, Trust among States.”

Antonio Guterres continued, “There is outrage at our inability to end the wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. The Rohingya people remain exiles traumatized and in misery.”

Contrary to last year’s Assembly, the looming threat of a possible nuclear war with North Korea did not dominate the address. Rather the Secretary-General cautiously praised the ongoing process in defusing in tensions on the Korean peninsula where both the U.S. and South Korean governments have striven for a diplomatic solution over North Korea’s nuclear proliferation.

He stated, “The courageous initiative of the Singapore Summit between the leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, along with the recent meeting of the two Korean leaders in Pyongyang, offers hope for the possibility of a full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke about the Assembly as “the forum to highlight 
the U.S. role and relationships in the world.” She said the multilateral meeting would allow her to “put U.S. interests in the spotlight,” something she has tirelessly done during this month’s American presidency of the fifteen-member Security Council where she has focused on crisis situations from Nicaragua and Venezuela to Syria and Yemen.

President Donald Trump’s measured but firm address to the Assembly stressed the narrative of standing up for America in the world while “pursuing security without apology.”

But what a difference a year makes!

Last September, amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation and missile firings, President Trump firmly confronted the threats with blunt rhetorical deterrence. He famously called the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “Little Rocket Man” and warned that nuclear threats to American territory or that of our Asian allies would not be tolerated. Period.

The world held its breath; many expected war. Even earlier this year, many “experts” expected a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea. Fortunately diplomacy prevailed. Credit the Olympics and common sense.

While hosting the Winter Olympics, South Korea’s government played a positive political role in courting their fellow Korean cousins in the North. The Olympics allowed for South and North Korea to thaw their once glacial inter-state relations. Equally the USA prevailed upon China, North Korea’s longtime comrade and benefactor, to coerce its minions in Pyongyang to talk rather than shoot missiles.

Decisively the Trump Administration played a diplomatic card, and with the support of South Korea, held the Singapore Summit.

As the President stated, “The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction.  Nuclear testing has stopped, ” significantly adding, “though much work remains to be done. The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs.”

Donald Trump did not solve the problem, but stopped the ticking nuclear clock. Now comes a harder part, convincing Kim Jong-Un to follow through.

The President saved his toughest words for the Islamic Republic of Iran, “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction.  They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations.”

He justified pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, reached by the previous U.S. administration, adding that tough economic sanctions would be re-imposed on Teheran’s rulers; “We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons.”

The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini differs, “Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear-related commitments.”

Significantly the geopolitical pendulum has shifted from Pyongyang to Tehran. U.S. political and economic pressures on Iran have produced an almost sullen pushback from the Europeans. Contrary to North Korea, Iran offers commercial and trade opportunities and thus achieving consensus will be far more difficult.

Washington’s renewed focus on Iran’s nonproliferation poses a genuine dilemma for many countries whose lucrative contracts are in the wind. The world nervously watches the new showdown.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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