Big presence of world leaders at UN summit

Pope to address UN ahead of meet attended by Xi Jinping, Obama, Merkel, Putin, Raul Castro

UNITED NATIONS • World leaders will gather for their annual meeting at the United Nations starting tomorrow as Europe faces a flood of asylum seekers, many fleeing Syria's civil war in the worst humanitarian crisis since the world body was created 70 years ago.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will also top the agenda.

United States President Barack Obama will host a counter-terrorism meeting, with over 100 countries invited, that will address ISIS, foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremism.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will chair a Security Council meeting on counter-terrorism.

But before the marathon of speeches in the 193-member General Assembly starts on Monday, Pope Francis will address the United Nations tomorrow ahead of a three-day summit with more than 150 world leaders that will formally adopt a global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years.

"General Assembly high-level week is always known as diplomatic speed-dating, but I think this year is breaking records," said the US Ambassador to the UN, Ms Samantha Power.

She said it was expected to have the highest number of world leaders attending in UN history.

The leaders making rare appearances include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cuban leader Raul Castro and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

China's President Xi Jinping, who is in the US for an official visit, will make his UN debut.

The new sustainable development agenda, which was agreed by UN members last month, aims to wipe out hunger and extreme poverty, reduce inequality within and between countries, achieve gender equality, improve water management and energy, and urgently combat climate change.

Pope Francis, a strong advocate for action to combat climate change and who in June issued the first papal document on the environment, will be the fifth pope to address the UN.

Mr Putin will address the assembly on Monday. While he has no formal meeting planned with Mr Obama, there will be opportunity for the two to speak on the sidelines. "It looks like Russia may table new peace proposals for Syria, but the chances of a breakthrough are low," said Adjunct Associate Professor Richard Gowan, who teaches at Columbia University.

"Putin will use his first visit to the UN in a decade to defend his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forcefully, but Western and Arab governments will respond equally toughly."

He added that "nasty debates over Syria could poison the atmosphere".

Mr Putin is expected to speak about the need for countries to join together to destroy ISIS and tackle the threats posed by extremism and terrorism.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'Big presence of world leaders at UN summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe