President Trump will arrive in New York City on Monday under a cloud of controversy over his conversations with Ukraine’s leaders, creating a new distraction as he kicks off three days of speeches and meetings at the United Nations General Assembly.
The annual gathering of world leaders is always a frenetic event for a U.S. president, but this one promises to be even more of a pressure cooker given the questions about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine over an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump must also deal with a host of foreign policy crises, most notably the question of how to respond to attacks on Saudi oil fields that the U.S. suspects were done with the hand of Iran.
Here are five things to watch during Trump’s time at the U.N.
Ukraine controversy hovers over the assembly
Trump enters the U.N. amid a brewing controversy over a July call in which Trump reportedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden’s son Hunter.
Trump on Sunday acknowledged that he discussed Biden on the call, which is said to be the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint.
He defended the conversation as “perfect” while doubling down on his criticism of Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, for what Trump and his allies have painted as allegations of corruption. Trump has offered no specific evidence to back up the allegations.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump told reporters at the White House Sunday.
The revelations have stirred new impeachment talk among House Democrats, and Trump’s scheduled meeting with Zelensky on Wednesday is likely to overshadow any positive headlines the president nets at the U.N.
Trump on Sunday said he would consider releasing a transcript or details of his conversation with Zelensky, but indicated he needed to be “shy” about doing so because foreign leaders need to be able to speak candidly with him without worrying that their statements could become public.
Will there be a shift on Iran?
The administration has been at odds with major allies on Iran, so Trump is likely to come under pressure over Tehran while in New York.
The U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last year despite the urgings of France, the United Kingdom, Germany and others who are now attempting to salvage some type of pact.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will be in attendance at the U.N. proceedings this week, but it seems unlikely there will be a big shift in Trump’s approach.
Trump has all but ruled out sitting down with Iranian officials in New York City.
“Nothing is ever off the table completely, but I have no intention of meeting with Iran,” Trump said Sunday.
The U.S. last week announced additional sanctions on Iran’s central bank in response to the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities. The Pentagon later said all indications were that Iran was responsible for the attacks and announced the deployment of additional troops and resources to the region to boost security.
Can Trump get a breakthrough with China?
Trump is sure to face questions from a number of world leaders on his ongoing trade war with China, as he did during the Group of Seven (G-7) summit one month ago.
The president will face pressure to assure American allies that his approach is working, even as a deal has eluded his administration. The trade war has spawned global economic uncertainty, unsettling markets and raising fears about the world economy.
There have been signs of progress in recent weeks, with both sides delaying some tariffs. U.S. and Chinese counterparts are meeting this month to continue trade negotiations, and Trump administration officials are expected to hold high-level negotiations in October.
Trump has sought to project confidence about the prospects of a deal. On Friday, Trump said he is looking for a “complete deal” with China and wouldn’t agree to one around the margins. He also said he didn’t need a deal before the 2020 election.
“I don’t think I need it before the election. I think people know that we’re doing a great job,” Trump said. “China is being affected very badly, we’re not.”
Trump will also hold a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, during which the two could formalize a bilateral trade agreement. Trump announced on the sidelines of the G-7 that the two leaders had reached a trade pact “in principle” and hoped to finalize it at the U.N. meeting.
What will Trump’s tone be in his address?
Trump will deliver remarks to the full U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday in a speech that has in each of the past two years produced moments that showed the president at odds with world leaders.
Last year, Trump was dealt with something of an embarrassment during his remarks. World leaders audibly laughed when the president boasted that his administration had accomplished “more than almost any administration in the history of our country in its first two years.”
The president later defensively told reporters that other leaders were laughing “with” him, not at him.
While Tuesday’s address may not produce such a viral moment, its tone will be key in determining how the president hopes to move forward on key issues and whether he’s able to build coalitions to address Iran, China, North Korea and other challenges.
“He’s going to want to talk about our priorities and what we’re doing and the ways we can best work together, but always with America first at the forefront,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday on Fox Business Network.
Trump has advocated since taking office for an “America First” agenda that at times runs against the United Nations’ mission of promoting multilateralism.
He has criticized the global body for failing to reach its full potential and has outright spurned it in other cases, such as when he dismissed those who say North Korea is in violation of a United Nations resolution in firing short-range projectiles.
Will Trump say anything on climate change?
Trump will lead an event on religious freedom on Monday morning that the administration has promoted as a key piece of the week’s agenda.
But it conflicts with a forum on climate change, a subject Trump has repeatedly brushed aside to the dismay of environmentalists and some world leaders.
“No, it’s not a snub at all,” Trump said Sunday when asked if the scheduling overlap was a “snub” to the climate event. “I’m very busy.”
Grisham on Monday left open the possibility that Trump would make an appearance at the climate meeting when asked about it during an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he popped in and stopped by. We’ll see what happens, his schedule is ever changing,” Grisham said.
Trump skipped a G-7 climate meeting in France last month attended by other major world leaders, and he has repeatedly cast doubt on the existence and effects of climate change.
While dozens of world leaders in New York City gather to discuss climate change, activists in Washington, D.C., shut down major roadways and transportation hubs to bring attention to the climate issue.