IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

U.N. General Assembly: What to Watch For as World Leaders Meet

Global crisis and conflicts will be front and center as world leaders meet at the U.N. General Assembly.
Get more newsLiveon

When President Obama takes the podium on Monday during the United Nations General Assembly, he will be part of a cavalcade of world leaders — from Russia to Iran — whose nations are at the fore of global crisis and conflicts.

That means that a wide range of contentions — from strained relations between the U.S. and Russia over the annexation of Ukraine and movement in Syria, to the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, to the impact of global climate change — could be addressed during the 70th anniversary of the founding of the U.N.

Here are some of the expected highlights:


On Monday, the president will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a face-to-face that could prove tense as the two nations have had icy relations since Russia annexed portions of Ukraine and amidst the growing Russian military presence near the Syrian port city of Latakia.

Related: Russia Begins Drone Flights Over Syria: U.S. Officials

"The situation in Ukraine continues to be of significant concern and our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine will be front and center throughout our discussions, particularly with President Putin," Ben Rhodes, White House national security adviser, told reporters on Thursday.

Image: Russian troops during shift change outside Privolnoye military base in Crimea, Ukraine.
Russian troops during shift change outside Privolnoye military base in Crimea, Ukraine.Ed Flanagan / NBC News

The U.S. supports rebels fighting Assad, but both Washington and Moscow have a common enemy in ISIS — the target of U.S.-led airstrikes.

The meeting provides an opportunity for the president to ask Putin directly about Russian military forces in Syria.

"There's a lot of talk and now it's time for clarity and for Russia to come clean and come clear on just exactly how it proposes to be a constructive contributor to what is already an ongoing multi-nation coalition," said Celeste Wallander, the White House National Security Council's senior director for Russia. "That's a question for President Putin, and it's a question we'll be posing to President Putin."


While President Obama is not expected to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the U.N. sessions, U.S. Secretary John Kerry is expected to speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. The White House expects those conversations to center on the historic deal between Tehran and six world powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program as those countries near an October target to begin implementing the agreement’s terms.

The administration will discuss concerns about Iranian destabilizing activities in the region and will also use those conversations as an opportunity to raise the issue of the detained Americans being held in Iran.

"There will be a clear message about our continued and grave concerns about the ongoing detention of Americans in Iran," Rhodes said.


White House officials say President Obama and Cuban President Raul aren’t expected to formally meet during the Cuban leader’s first attendance at the U.N. General Assembly. However, they are expected to cross paths in their first opportunity to see each other since the normalization of relations in July.

According to The Associated Press, which cited unnamed officials, the Obama administration is considering abstaining from the annual vote condemning the American economic embargo of Cuba.


The United States and China agreed not to "conduct or knowingly support" cyber-theft of intellectual property or commercial trade secrets, the presidents of both countries announced Friday in an address at the White House Rose Garden.

On the heels of the agreement, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to stress the impact of global climate change.

"Climate change will be high on the agenda in that bilateral meeting. As the two biggest emitters of the world, the leadership shown by the U.S. and China heading into the U.N. session and the meetings in Paris will be critical to a successful outcome," Rhodes said. "So after the breakthrough last year in terms of the United States and China both announcing targets in terms of emissions reductions, we’ll have an opportunity to put some additional meat on the bones in the discussions over the next two days about the commitments the United States and China will be taking into Paris."

Related: Breaking the Ice: Obama Seeks to Cement Climate Change Legacy

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The surge of thousands of people from war-torn regions in the Middle East and Africa to European countries will also be a topic of discussion during the session.

The Obama administration said earlier this month it is willing to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.

"Of course, we will have to be addressing some very significant global challenges," Rhodes said. "Certainly, the counter-ISIL efforts, which was a focus last year, will continue to be a focus this year given the summit the president is convening. And it relates to both the situation in Iraq and Syria, and our efforts to combat ISIL, and also the humanitarian challenges that are emanating from the region will certainly be a topic this year."

Related: U.S. Willing to Accept 10,000 Syrian Refugees Next Year