UN General Assembly Returns Next Week Amid Serious Challenges

With UN General Assembly set to get underway next week,  UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges the glut of troubles facing the world at the moment. He described the state of the world as “A time of great peril.” Fair description considering the wars, economic crisis, poverty, climate chaos and other issues in play across the planet right now. The question is: What is the United Nations prepared to do about it?

Guterres is calling for cooperation from UN member-states, while acknowledging the global response to these crises has been weakened by a number of mitigating factors. In an interview with NPR, the secretary-general admitted that the supranational body’s ability to contend with matters such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the energy crisis now brewing in Europe is limited. More to the point, Guterres doesn’t expect UN efforts to result in progress to be made on many fronts.

This will be the first in-person General Assembly since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath many leaders attended remotely. 140 world leaders are expected to attend, a marked increase from 2021’s 80. There will be one exception granted though. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy was granted permission by the UN General Assembly to address the body via video link.

Trump Administration Announces New Sanctions on Iran

On Monday the Trump administration announced a new series of sanctions against Iran, the latest phase in the US campaign to exert maximum pressure on Tehran. The latest batch of sanctions will target Iran’s weapons manufacturing industry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the action today at a joint press conference with the principal members of the Trump administration’s national security team. President Trump had earlier signed an executive order related to the sanctions.

“Today, I will take the first action under this new executive order by sanctioning the Iranian Ministry of Defense and armed forces logistics and Iran’s defense industries organization and its director,” Pompeo said.

The announcement comes as the UN General Assembly kicks off in New York City. This year, the gathering will be like no other in the UN’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the diplomatic interaction and speeches will come through digital means. The renewal of UN-sponsored sanctions against Iran was expected to be a topic for discussion at the General Assembly but under the circumstances it no longer appears probable.

Iran’s currency reacted to a previous US announcements earlier in the weekend that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. The rial hit a record low on Sunday owing largely to Iranian-US tensions. The rial has lost roughly half of its value in 2020.

 Adding to the tense atmosphere is the appearance of the USS Nimitz carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf to conduct operations in close proximity to the Iranian coast. Nimitz and her escorts transited the Strait of Hormuz late last week, and is the first US aircraft carrier to operate within the Gulf since November, 2019.

Venezuela Rising on the International Agenda

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Over the summer as tensions in the Middle East have dominated the attention of the world, Venezuela fell between the cracks of the international agenda. On Wednesday, President Trump moved to remedy this at the UN General Assembly. In a meeting with Latin American leaders who do not recognize Nicolas Maduro as the rightful leader of Venezuela, Trump reaffirmed the US commitment to Venezuela and pushed back against perceptions that US concern about the political unrest, and economic distress in that country has waned. The US, and nearly sixty other nations around the world support opposition leader Juan Guaido and consider him to be the rightful leader of Venezuela. Unfortunately, Guaido’s international status was hurt somewhat by the abortive coup the opposition launched in the spring, which accomplished nothing. Maduro remains in power, bolstered largely by Cuban, and to a far lesser extent, Russian support.

Meanwhile, as the meeting at the UN played out, Nicolas Maduro was in Moscow for discussions with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Russia has been a strong supporter of Maduro and his government, providing generous loans, and assistance for Venezuela’s military, and petroleum industry. There’s little chance of the two leaders coming to an agreement on additional loans or material support in this meeting. However, Maduro will return to Russia for another meeting with Putin early next month during the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi.

UN General Assembly 2019: The Last Chance for Diplomacy?

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This week in New York, the chief diplomats of the United States, and Iran are entering the UN General Assembly with two specific mission goals, and guidelines regarding how to best achieve them. What transpires in Manhattan this week will almost assuredly affect the national interests of Iran, and the US. In the case of the former, the same holds true with regards to its economic wellbeing, and overall security.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s mission is to convince world leaders to pressure the United States into loosening the economic sanction noose it has fastened around Iran’s neck. Zarif has been dangling the possibility of talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump taking place on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week in exchange for a loosening of the sanctions. Washington has shown no interest in this approach, and its not likely that Zarif will find too many sympathetic world leaders who possess the clout, or willingness to persuade the US to go easier on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes into the General Assembly looking to lay the foundation for a diplomatic outcome to the crisis. Contrary to the opinions expressed by countless left-leaning journalists, politicians and talking heads, the United States does not want to begin a war with Iran. SecState, and the rest of the Trump administration’s national security team have left no stone unturned while searching for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Regrettably, none have been found. Despite its claims otherwise, Tehran has demonstrated no sincere desire to resolve the current issues through diplomatic means. The Iranian government only wants to return the US-Iran relationship to what it was previous to President Trump’s inauguration and that is not going to happen.

So, as the week begins and the drama starts to unfold in Manhattan, it will be useful to keep in mind that if there is no diplomatic breakthrough by Friday, the Trump administration will begrudgingly admit that diplomacy has failed. From that point on, the US focus will shift towards non-diplomatic means to contain Iran. And by non-diplomatic means, I’m referring to the application of military power, of course. 😊

21 September, 2019: Iran Update

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As the United States military prepares to move additional forces to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region, Iran is threatening to pursue and destroy any aggressor, and that war might be unavoidable. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview on Face The Nation, which will be shown Sunday morning.  In it, the diplomat stressed that should a conflict erupt between Iran and the United States, it will not be a limited war. Meanwhile, as the latest US troop movement prepares to get underway, the Pentagon revealed that the mission of the troops is defensive in nature and will focus on air and ballistic missile defense. Assistance was formally requested by the Saudis. Along with the deployment, the US has announced it will be providing additional military hardware to its Gulf allies. The purpose behind this move is simple. Should the current tension bring about a military confrontation, it is in Washington’s best interest for US allies in the Gulf region to be properly equipped and supplied.

 

On Friday, the Trump administration also raised economic pressure on Iran. A new round of sanctions will target Iran’s national bank, a move that has the potential to cut off Iran’s dwindling access to global markets. When it comes to hard currency, Iran is running short. Further US pressure will make matters worse, and likely spur Tehran to take action similar to last weekend’s attacks sometime in the near future.

 

The coming week will see a new realm in the US-Iran crisis open up. The UN General Assembly will be underway, and the situation in the Persian Gulf will undoubtedly be a major topic. It remains to be seen if Iran’s leadership will meet with President Trump. Another area to be watched carefully will be US efforts to build an anti-Iran coalition and how successful they are. On Monday, we’ll discuss the UN General Assembly in greater detail.