With the United States poised to lead the United Nations Security Council for the month of September, one thing is certain: There will be no shortage of drama. The leadership of the Security Council rotates between member states, and this month the U.S. will lead during the global body’s busiest time – the opening of the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 18th. General debate begins on September 25th when world leaders take to the podium to discuss many of the thorniest issues confronting the international community.
The General Assembly (GA) comprises all 193 Member States and it serves as the “chief deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the United Nations.” The GA is a forum where international issues are discussed and debated in a unique multilateral setting. Moreover, the GA plays an important role in setting standards and codifying international law.
Critics are quick to point out the absence of any concrete results emanating from the annual meeting. However, this is not correct. For example, in 2005, President Obama used the gathering to move Member States to accept the Paris Climate Agreement. Unfortunately, President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. But for critics to say that the UNGA does not achieve measurable results is simply not true.
On September 26th, the U.S. president will chair a U.N. Security Council debate regarding Iran. According to reports, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, indicated that the president seeks an open forum where Iran’s “violations of international law” and its role in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen can be discussed. His goal is to bring the issue of Iran to the forefront while the attention of the world is focused upon the U.N. The U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has been roundly criticized by world leaders.
Privately, U.S officials are quite concerned about having the president chair such a highly divisive issue like Iran. There have been internal discussions regarding the possibility of reframing the session to a broader discussion of the Middle East. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, commented recently that the U.S. president will use this opportunity to “blame Iran for horrors US & clients have unleashed across” the Middle East.
U.N. protocol allows for the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to be invited to the session Trump will chair. The session permits the U.S. president to call upon Zarif or Rouhani; however, the chance that either is present during this time is remote. The action of calling upon the Iranian officials occurs only after all 15 Security Council members have spoken. Reports indicate that if Trump leaves the session early, his duties will fall to Haley.
The point of focusing upon Iran for the administration is to highlight their rogue behavior in several of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. The president’s position runs counter to the core U.N. principle of collective security which emphasizes the importance of countries acting together in an alliance to ensure each other’s security. In addition, the president’s view on Iran places him in direct conflict with Russia and China – two Permanent Members (P-5) of the Security Council who have veto power.
In 2009, President Obama presided over a Security Council meeting resulting in passage of a resolution increasing the level of surveillance on nations involved in nuclear proliferation. For Trump, his reasoning to focus upon Iran is less about monitoring its nuclear program than it is about advancing his own personal agenda. The ability to work through multilateral institutions is vital to solving the numerous intractable problems facing the international community. The president has no interest in working through organizations like the U.N., and this is an issue the global community must reckon with to solve matters like nuclear proliferation.