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Experts Say The U.S. Appears Isolated At The U.N. General Assembly This Year


As President Trump monitors domestic issues like wildfires, he is dealing with foreign policy issues as well, of course. Tomorrow at the White House, he will preside as two Gulf Arab states agree to normalize ties with Israel. And next Tuesday, the president will deliver his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He may be one of the only world leaders to show up in person this year. And he is likely to find himself isolated on the issues as well, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Trump's "America First" agenda often leaves him out of sync with America's traditional allies. He has a long record of pulling out of international agreements, including one meant to tackle the world's climate crisis.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is time to exit the Paris accord.

I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.

KELEMEN: Still, Trump seems to enjoy taking the podium at the U.N. Stewart Patrick is a U.N. watcher at the Council on Foreign Relations.

STEWART PATRICK: Whenever a president comes before the United Nations, they're effectively speaking to two different audiences - an international one and a domestic one. And in the case of Donald Trump, this is going to be another opportunity for him to double down and throwing red meat to his base.

KELEMEN: And that opportunity might not come with the same cost it did two years ago when a packed hall of world leaders laughed at him.


TRUMP: My administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America's - so true.


TRUMP: Didn't expect that reaction, but that's OK.

KELEMEN: This time, because of COVID, there won't be many others in the room to laugh. Stewart Patrick says Trump takes a transactional approach to the international community.

PATRICK: It's a what's-in-it-for-me attitude.

KELEMEN: And he says Trump often portrays the U.N. as globalists trying to infringe on U.S. sovereignty.

PATRICK: So in his view, the United Nations is really a bunch of Lilliputians trying to tie down Gulliver and to try to play the United States for a sucker. And that's been quite explicit in many of the statements that he's made over the years.

KELEMEN: The Trump administration has left the U.N. Human Rights Council, withdrawn from UNESCO and defunded both the U.N. agency that aids Palestinians and the U.N.'s Population Fund. Past administrations have withheld funds and demanded reforms. But Lou Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch says this is different.

LOU CHARBONNEAU: There's this attack on multilateral institutions that has reached a kind of fever pitch under the Trump administration that we haven't seen in the past.

KELEMEN: For example, the International Criminal Court. The U.S. wasn't a part of it. The Trump administration has actively sought to undermine it, imposing sanctions on the ICC's top prosecutor for opening an investigation into Afghanistan.

CHARBONNEAU: Basically waging war against the permanent war crimes tribunal that was set up to make it difficult for war criminals around the world to escape justice.

KELEMEN: Charbonneau says on that and many other topics, the U.S. is looking isolated at the U.N. But Trump made clear in his speech last year that he doesn't mind going it alone.


TRUMP: The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.

KELEMEN: That's a message that plays well to his base at home, even if it's not met with applause at the U.N.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "LOOPED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.