U.N. Meeting a Farewell for Obama, and a Dress Rehearsal for Clinton
SEPT. 16, 2016
WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his final appearance at the United Nations General Assembly next week to extol the benefits of his brand of multilateral diplomacy, even as the gathering will lay bare places where that diplomacy has fallen short.
While Mr. Obama is saying his farewells, his preferred successor, Hillary Clinton, will return to the diplomatic stage, meeting with a handful of leaders, including the presidents of Egypt and Ukraine. She was a fixture at the General Assembly as secretary of state, and her presence this year will underscore the sense of political transition in the United States.
Mr. Obama, his advisers said, plans to recount the negotiations that led to the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and to present them as templates for dealing with future crises.
Yet the General Assembly will be shadowed by the recent nuclear test in North Korea, which demonstrated the continuing inability of the United States and other countries to force the North to abide by nonproliferation standards.
And on Tuesday, the United States will play host to a summit meeting of world leaders devoted to the mushrooming refugee crisis — a problem fueled by the five-year civil war in Syria that the Obama administration has had little success in ending.
Mr. Obama’s aides acknowledged the mixed picture. “On the one hand, there are enormous positive indicators in our world today,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said Friday. “At the same time there’s a great deal of unease.”
The General Assembly is doubling as a valedictory for Mr. Obama and a dress rehearsal for Mrs. Clinton. While the president is seeking to cement his legacy and tackle unfinished business, she is using it as a way to telegraph foreign-policy priorities.Photo
Meeting with Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, for example, sends a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has continued to menace Ukraine along its eastern border. Her decision to meet with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is more complicated. She has known the former general for many years, meeting him with her husband, Bill Clinton, during previous United Nations gatherings.
But General Sisi has an unsavory reputation, particularly among human right groups, for his role in the bloody military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi. “Why does Hillary again want to meet Sisi?” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. “He directed 817+ killed in 12 hours in Rabaa Sq.”
The Clinton campaign did not comment on the reason for the meetings, saying only that she would most likely have several others as well. At a news conference Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., Mrs. Clinton defended the meetings as a way to stay connected with world leaders, implicitly contrasting her ties against those of the Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump.
“There’s a lot going on in the world and I have a longstanding set of relationships that go back not only to secretary and senator but first lady, and I think it’s important to tend to those relationships,” Mrs. Clinton said.
The leaders Mr. Obama will meet with reflect the problems he is leaving behind. On Monday, he is to meet with Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to gauge the progress in the military campaign against the Islamic State. Later in the week, he is scheduled to meet with the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, whose country is another front in the war against militant Islam.
But the president will also meet with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, who recently signed a peace agreement with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Mr. Rhodes said Mr. Obama’s diplomatic opening to Cuba had helped ease the way for Mr. Santos’s agreement.
For Mr. Obama, the summit meeting on refugees is the centerpiece of his diplomatic efforts. To earn a seat at the table, countries have to pledge to accept more refugees or spend more on educational and employment opportunities for them. The United States pledged to increase the number of refugees it admits to 110,000 a year, from 85,000 this year — an increase that some critics say is paltry, given the country’s size and resources.
The administration said the summit meeting was a sign of American leadership even as Samantha Power, the ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged that “a small number of countries have been carrying a disproportionate share of the refugee burden.”