2018 UN General Assembly recap

The 73rd United Nations General Assembly opened on Sept. 18 at the UN headquarters in New York City, with the General Debate running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1. The annual meeting is intended to bring world leaders together to discuss current and continuous global affairs, and is the main policymaking event for the UN.

The theme of this year’s debate was announced in July by UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés as “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies.” Priority issues included gender equality, social responsibility concerning migration and refugees, innovation for the future and plastic pollution. This year’s General Assembly also marked the centennial anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, with the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit held on Sept. 24 to discuss global peace initiatives.

Below is an overview of notable issues discussed between various countries and their representatives.

India and Pakistan
Though the disputed region of Kashmir was never mentioned explicitly, Minister of External Affairs of India Sushma Swaraj alluded to Pakistan’s support of terrorism in the region as the main obstacle in peace talks, according to Al Jazeera. In response, Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi accused India of sponsoring terrorism, stating India was undervaluing peace in the way of politics.

United States War Crimes in Syria
Walid al-Moallem, deputy prime minister and foreign minister to Syria, accused the U.S. of massacring civilians and other war crimes while denouncing foreign involvement in the country as an impediment to fighting terrorism.

Israel, Iran and the U.S. on Nuclear Proliferation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of holding nuclear weapons in secret warehouses, even presenting maps with suspected locations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the U.S. of its increasing “political isolation,” speaking about the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal while urging President Donald Trump to cease “bullying” the country.

State of Palestine and Jordan on Two-State Solution
According to Turkish news channel TRT World, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Trump administration of subverting the two-state solution, noting the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and humanitarian aid cuts. Meanwhile, Jordanian King Abdullah II urged world leaders to recommit to a peaceful solution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while giving his support for a two-state solution, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Meddling in Foreign Affairs, Elections
According to the Tehran Times, President Donald Trump accused China of intending to meddle in the upcoming U.S. elections in order to sway the outcome away from Republicans. Wang Yi, foreign minister to China, dismissed the accusation, saying China has a policy of “non-interference of the domestic affairs of other countries.”

As reported by Al Jazeera, Russia continued to deny evidence of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, while Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the Trump administration of meddling in Iranian and Venezuelan politics by way of coup d’etats. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros also called sanctions by the Trump administration illegal and imperialistic.

Diplomacy with Saudi Arabia
In continuation of an earlier diplomatic dispute, Saudi Arabia demanded Canada apologize for criticizing the gulf nation’s human rights record, specifically the jailing of women’s rights activists. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in response, “Canada will always stand up for human rights.”

In a separate issue, which began November 2017, Germany and Saudi Arabia have made amends, citing misunderstandings between the two countries. The issue began when the now former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made comments condemning Middle East adventurism, which was understood as a critique of Saudi politics in Yemen and Lebanon.

Rohingya Crisis
UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Ursula Mueller declared repatriation of Rohingya Muslims would not be possible at this time until Myanmar addressed the issue. Mueller urged the country to “take real steps forward,” such as in the dismantling of segregated facilities for the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar.

North Korea
In a blow to previous statements by Trump, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho accredited the newfound pathways to peace between North and South Korea to Korean efforts, stating the U.S. was actually an impediment to the peace process. Ri also urged for more trusting relations, calling U.S. sanctions coercive. Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister to Russia, echoed this sentiment while coming in direct contradiction to the strategy of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying relieving of sanctions should lead the way in disarmament rather than using sanctions as an intimidation tactic.