Four Things to Watch for at the UN General Assembly
Next week promises high drama at the United Nations as the world's leaders come together for debate and diplomacy at the 68 th U.N. General Assembly. With the threat of military strikes looming over the hard push for diplomacy on Syria, the global debut of Iran's new president and encounters between allies and foes around the world, here are four things to watch for:
1) Will President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry meet with their Iranian counterparts?
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen as far more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and after Rouhani's Washington Post op-ed, recent tweets and declarations in an interview that Iran is willing to negotiate about its nuclear program and will never pursue a bomb, many are wondering whether the U.S. and Iran will talk next week.
Some have asked if President Obama will meet with Rouhani after the president told ABC News that he has passed a letter to Rouhani. MoveOn.org is circulating a petition calling on Obama to meet with Rouhani at UNGA.
In his recent interview, Rouhani signaled that Iran is willing to meet with the U.S. and negotiate.
"The problem won't be from our side," Rouhani said. "We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem."
The State Department hasn't said whether or not Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
"I don't know," a senior State Department official said Friday. "There's nothing on his schedule."
The U.S. has long said it's willing to meet with Iran, the State Department official said.
2) Will Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, who's been indicted for war crimes, actually come? He's put in for a visa, but will it be granted?
The United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court so is not required to arrest Bashir if he does come to New York. But the ICC has invited the U.S. to hand over the African president to the Hague anyway, saying that because America voted with the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the court in 2009 and 2010, it could have jurisdiction to arrest Bashir.
"The U.S., as a non-state party to the statute, has no obligations vis-à-vis the Court," said the ICC in a statement, while urging "all states and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power condemned Bashir's attempt to come to the U.S., calling it "deplorable," telling reporters this week that "it would be more appropriate for him to present himself to the ICC and travel to the Hague."
"He has submitted a visa application," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "There are a lot of considerations going into this request, including the outstanding warrant against him."
But for all the outrage expressed by administration officials, the U.S. may not be able to do anything to stop Bashir from coming. As the host country to the U.N. General Assembly, America has an international obligation to fulfill visa requests of leaders, even if said leader is an accused war criminal.
3) Will the U.N. Security Council actually come to an agreement on a Syria resolution to destroy the country's chemical weapons stockpile? And what kind of consequences will that Chapter 7 resolution have built in that both the U.S. and Russia can accept?
The U.S. has strong hopes that the U.N. Security Council will adopt a "binding" resolution on Syria's chemical weapons, codifying the U.S.-Russia agreement that Syria should hand them over to international control.
"Time is short. Let's not spend time debating what we already know," the secretary of state told reporters at a briefing at the State Department on Thursday.
"Instead, we have to recognize that the world is watching to see whether we can avert military action and achieve through peaceful means even more than what those military strikes promise," Kerry said.
At Friday's State Department briefing, Harf said the U.S. hopes for a vote next week.
On Monday, the U.N. released its much-anticipated report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In his appearance on Thursday, Kerry said the report proved Assad's regime is to blame.
"This isn't complicated," Kerry said. "When we said we know what is true, we meant it."
Details unveiled by the U.N. about missiles that carried sarin gas in the August attack outside Damascus, Kerry said, prove Assad's culpability for "anyone who puts the dots together."
4) Will the Syrian opposition, which has stated it is adamantly opposed to the U.S.-Russia deal but has been invited to meetings at the General Assembly gathering, accept the outcome of the diplomacy taking place?
State Department spokeswoman Harf confirmed that leaders from the Syrian Opposition Coalition have received invitations to attend meetings next week.
"The [Syrian Opposition Coalition] issued a statement … ahead of their visit to the U.N. General Assembly next week," Harf said. "The statement first calls on the U.N. Security Council to authorize the use of all necessary measures to ensure that any noncompliance will have serious consequences, as provided for in Chapter VII of the U.N. charter. It also pledges to cooperate fully with the U.N., OPCW and other international personnel who will be responsible for dismantling the Syrian [chemical weapons] program, and it reiterated its commitment to a political solution as set out in the Geneva communique."