Biden issues plea for Ukraine support as U.N. General Assembly gets underway
NEW YORK — President Biden pleaded with global leaders here Tuesday to align behind the U.S. and its allies in continuing to confront Russia’s “naked aggression” against Ukraine, warning that no country in the world will be safe if Russian forces are not driven from Ukrainian territory.
Mr. Biden addressed the first day of the weeklong U.N. General Assembly gathering as he faces growing skepticism both in Washington and in capitals in the developing world over aid and military support for Ukraine, whose grinding war with Russia recently passed the 18-month mark.
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Mr. Biden asked in a speech to the assembly of world leaders in Manhattan.
“I would respectfully suggest the answer is no. You have to stand up to this aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” the president told the audience at U.N. headquarters — an annual meeting that this year is notably absent of certain key leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to address the gathering later in the day, before flying on to Washington. Mr. Biden did get some rhetorical backup Tuesday from Polish President Andrzej Duda, who described Russia’s invasion of his country’s neighbor as “evil” in his address to the General Assembly.
“The crimes must be accounted for and the perpetrators punished,” Mr. Duda said, adding Warsaw was proposing the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute potential war crimes regarding Russia’s conduct of the invasion.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, along with a range of others, have skipped this year’s General Assembly, sending lower-powered delegations to New York.
Mr. Biden spoke at the start of a two-day trip to New York, pushing a narrative that the United States is working overtime on his watch to bring nations together to confront the full range of challenges facing humanity — from conflicts and food insecurity in Africa to gender inequality, climate change and threats to democracy around the world.
He emphasized his own view that the United States sees itself as one among a world of nations dependent upon each other, while trying to provide a “baseline for responsible global leadership.”
“The United States seeks a more secure, more prosperous, more equitable world for all people, because we know our future is bound up with yours,” Mr. Biden said. “Let me repeat that again: We know our future is bound to yours, and no nation can meet the challenges of today alone.”
It’s a message likely to be embraced by other leaders participating in the marathon of speeches that will mark the General Assembly through next Tuesday. But risks are also high that it will fall on deaf ears at a moment that some, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has generated rising “multipolarity” and division on the global stage.
A range of dramatic speeches, meanwhile, are expected throughout the coming days. In addition to Mr. Zelenskyy, leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will address the assembly.
The absence this week of Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi — two leaders pinpointed by Washington as promoters of international tensions, conflict and gridlock in multinational forums such as the United Nations — has cast a shadow over this year’s gathering.
Notably, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is widely considered the most geopolitically consequential leader of a “Global South” developing world, is also not attending the General Assembly. Nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia appear to be increasingly on the fence over whether to align with the Biden administration on everything from global development finance priorities to the Ukraine war.
The leaders of Britain and France are also skipping the gathering. That means the General Assembly and all the backroom diplomatic meetings at high-end Manhattan hotels that come with it are playing out without the top leaders from four of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent member nations.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday reiterated his position that the Security Council, which has been hamstrung by divisions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the past 18 months, is badly in need of reform.
“In my address to this body last year, I announced that the United States would support expanding the Security Council,” the president said. “We need to be able to break the gridlock that too often stymies progress and blocks consensus at the Council.”
More broadly, he stressed that Washington is “working across the board” to make other global institutions “more responsive, more effective, and more inclusive.”
Mr. Biden pointed to changes underway at the World Bank, the Washington-based global financing entity, noting that he recently asked Congress to “expand World Bank financing by $25 billion.”
“We’ve taken significant steps to reform and scale up the World Bank, expand its financing to low- and middle-income countries, so it can help boost progress toward meeting the sustainable development goals, and better address interconnected challenges like climate change, and fragility,” Mr. Biden said.
The World Bank is often cited by analysts as a counter to an expanding slate of development lending that China has doled out around the world over the past decade through loans that U.S. officials characterize as predatory.
Mr. Biden offered cautious remarks on China Tuesday amid rising tension between Washington and Beijing over global trade, a growing China-Russia strategic alliance and rising conflicts of the status of Taiwan.
“When it comes to China,” he said, “We seek to responsibly manage the competition between our two countries so it does not tip into conflict.”
He stressed that U.S. officials “stand ready” to work with China on common issues.
“Nowhere is that more critical than the accelerating climate crisis,” Mr. Biden said. “We see it everywhere. Record-breaking heat waves in the United States and China. Wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe. A fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa, tragic flooding in Libya.”
“My heart goes out to the people of Libya,” he said.
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this article.