The UN is anxious and apprehensive about the new US president, his secretary of state, and his UN envoy. This anxiety is not just over the relationship with the UN Secretariat under António Guterres, but also in terms of the impact of bilateral US-Russian and US-Chinese relations on regional issues being examined by the international organization.
The reactions, based on interviews with a number of ambassadors of key states who asked not to be named, underscore the divisions among them regarding Donald Trump, and divisions within the blocs that had been aligned together during the Cold War era. UN envoys and the Secretariat’s observations focus on a new pattern in the relationship between the US, China, and Russia, the key poles of the coming era, which will undergo a sea change amid untraditional modes of alliance and divergence, respectively.
“One feels sorry for the US, because it is its loss,” remarked the ambassador of one key Asian state. It will be the US global influence and leadership that will be lost, he added, as the price of policies such as the ones planned for China, and it will be the US that will pay the main economic cost. “US isolationism does not harm us, because the world can cope with that. It will primarily harm America, which will lose rather than win.” The ambassador of the Asian nation, which is heavily impacted by Chinese policies, argued that the US retreat would fuel China’s ascendancy, saying Beijing is ready to fill the vacuum. “However, our biggest fear is for US economic woes, as a result of foolish policies by Trump, to worsen prompting him to believe he needs a war somewhere to offset the loss.”
The ambassador of a key Arab state, meanwhile, predicted that Trump’s relationship with the UN would be “stormy.” Trump’s statements, the ambassador remarked, indicate that the president gives no importance to the international organization whatsoever, expecting that the UN would be easy prey for the US president to achieve some “victories,” such as on the issues of the UN budget and Israel. The veteran diplomat added that the difficult relationship in this present turbulent time “constitutes a major challenge for the new secretary-general,” but everyone is betting on the personality of Guterres to contain the storm, he emphasized.
Nevertheless, the Arab ambassador expects a positive development in US attitudes toward Palestine, Yemen, and Syria, in the context of a shift in Iran-US relations. Palestine could see a positive development because it is an attractive issue for making a historical achievement, the diplomat said, “and there is a direct interest by President Trump in the issue,” while his secretary of state is well familiar with the region, and Trump has tasked his own son-in-law to lead efforts on his behalf. Furthermore, according to the ambassador, Trump is not beholden to the pro-Israel lobby, and has a bigger ability to take firm decisions and actions compared to his predecessor. The ambassador said the Obama administration had laid down the groundwork for such actions with the recent UN Security Council resolution, and judged the rhetoric from Trump and his candidates on the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem as “presidential posturing,” while actual policy at the decision time would change. Another ambassador interested in the repercussions of US policies on Jerusalem expected that the Trump administration would make some kind of move toward Israel on this issue, because he could not fully backtrack from his pledge to relocate the embassy, but said this could take a form that distinguishes between West Jerusalem and Arab East Jerusalem, suggesting that “we should wait and see.”
The Gulf diplomat expects relations with the US and Washington to improve, both on the personal and diplomatic levels. This could have an impact on Yemen, Syria, and general relations with the Gulf nations (abridged).
The writer is columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent, and New York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989.