Trump Touts ‘Full Normalization’ Between Israel, Mideast Countries to Fend Off Iran’s ‘anti-Semitism’

World threatens to split in half between U.S., China, Secretary-General Guterres warns ■ Escalating Mideast tensions, impending climate doom on the agenda ■ Sissi reiterates support for Arab peace initiative, Erdogan blasts Israel

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U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. Credit: \ CARLO ALLEGRI/ REUTERS

Navigating a troubled era's choppy waters, world leaders gather for their annual meeting at the United Nations on Tuesday to grapple with climate change, regional conflicts and a dispute in the Middle East that could ripple across the entire planet.

President Donald Trump made a forceful case for patriotism, defending his 'America First' policy in the face of the "cult" of globalism. He blasted China on trade, and asked leaders not to invest in the Iranian economy. 

"No responsible government should subsidize Iran's blood lust," Trump said, announcing that sanctions would not be lifted anytime soon, and singling out the perceived threat Iran represents on Israel - "America will never tolerate such anti-Semitic hate," he vowed. 

>> Read more: All eyes on China: U.S. loses interest in Mideast as Trump completes strategic shift | Analysis ■ When hunger supplants religion as the driver for Middle East conflict | Opinion

"For 40 years the world has listened to Iran's rulers lash out at everyone else for the problems they alone have created," the U.S. president said. "Stop threatening other countries and start focusing on your own," Trump said, although he tempered his rhetoric by saying the U.S. was "ready for friendship."

"The United States doesn't believe in permanent enemies," he claimed. "America knows that anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can choose peace."

The White House resident also took advantage of the tribune to defend Israel, and his administration's embattled peace initiative, which is facing difficulties in light of Israel's post-electoral political deadlock. "There is a growing recognition in the Middle East that the countries of the region share common interests. That is why it is so important to have full normalized relations between Israel and its neighbors."

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly, New York City, September 24, 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly, New York City, September 24, 2019Credit: AFP

Two of Israel's neighbors took the stage right after Trump - Egypt's al-Sissi and Turkey's Erdogan. 

Sissi did not mention troubles at home, as Egyptian police conduct a crackdown on burgeoning protests, but took a more conventional line focused on advocating for regional integration within the African Union. 

He reiterated his support for the Palestinian cause, and the Arab Peace Initiative, failing to mention the Trump administration's Mideast peace plan. 

Erdogan struck a more combative tone, saying nuclear capability should be forbidden for all, or available for all, and lamenting the injustices faced by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli occupation.

"The sight of a Palestinian woman shot in the street by Israeli soldiers just days ago should awake our consciences" Erdogan said, referring to the death of a Palestinian woman at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank on September 18.

Erdogan went on to condemn the spread of Israeli territory in the last 70 years, saying the U.S. was complicit in the disappearance of the prospects for a Palestinian state. "Where was Israel in 1947? In 1967?" he asked his audience, holding up a map showing the region at four different points in time - in a throwback to one of Benjamin Netanyahu's move

Talking to a meeting of New York Muslims on Monday, the Turkish leader said he considered "the Holocaust and the crimes of those that have turned Gaza into an open-air prison one and the same."

Erdogan and Benjamin Netanyahu are used to joust over social media, but the Turkish leader missed his sparring partner in New York, as the embattled Israeli premier cancelled his appearance to deal with the ongoing post-electoral negotiations.  

The Israeli prime minister did find a way to respond, posting a Hebrew-language video on Twitter asking Erdogan to "stop lying."

"He who doesn't stop lying about Israel, slaughters the Kurds in his own country, denies the terrible slaughter of the Armenian people shouldn't preach to us," Netanyahu said.

A world 'split into two'

In his opening, or so-called "state of the world" speech, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders of the looming risk of the world splitting in half with the two largest economies, the United States and China, creating rival internets, currencies, financial rules "and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies."

He said "we must do everything possible to avert the Great Fracture" and maintain a universal economy in a multipolar world.

Guterres gave an overview of the issues facing attending heads of states, painting a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing a climate crisis, "the alarming possibility" of a Gulf conflict, spreading terrorism spreading and rising inequality.

He was immediately followed by the traditional first speaker — Brazil, represented by its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took advantage of the tribune to defend his administration's policy on the management of the Amazon.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 74th session of the General Assembly, September 24, 2019
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 74th session of the General Assembly, September 24, 2019Credit: Mary Altaffer,AP

Multilateralism at risk

The United Nations, designed to promote a multilateral world, has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by the United States and other nations that favor going it alone over the brand of collaboration that the global body advocates.

The event unfolds against the backdrop of flaring tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by its longtime supporter, the United States. The Saudis say Iran was responsible for an attack earlier this month on two oil facilities, which Iran denies.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who is in New York, is scheduled to address world leaders on Wednesday.

This year's General Assembly session, which starts Tuesday and ends Sept. 30, has attracted world leaders from 136 of the 193 UN member nations. That large turnout reflects a growing global focus on addressing climate change and the perilous state of peace and security.

Other countries will be represented by ministers and vice presidents — except Afghanistan, whose leaders are in a hotly contested presidential campaign ahead of Sept. 28 elections, and North Korea, which downgraded its representation from a minister to, likely, its UN ambassador.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to attend and are sending ministers.

Last week, Guterres repeated warnings that "tensions are boiling over." The world, he said, "is at a critical moment on several fronts — the climate emergency, rising inequality, an increase in hatred and intolerance as well as an alarming number of peace and security challenges."

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