The Cable

U.N. Chief Rebukes Trump Over Travel Ban

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says U.S. travel restrictions will increase America’s terrorism risk.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres attends a press conference following the UNHCRs annual Executive Committee meeting on October 3, 2014 at the United Nations Office at Geneva.  AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres attends a press conference following the UNHCRs annual Executive Committee meeting on October 3, 2014 at the United Nations Office at Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a sharp rebuke of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, saying it is more likely to endanger Americans than shield them from future terrorist attacks.

“This is not the way to best protect the United States or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that exist about the possibility of terrorist infiltration,” he told reporters Wednesday at U.N. headquarters. “I think these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

The U.N. leader’s remarks raised the risk of a possible confrontation with the new U.S. president, who has reacted angrily to challenges to his actions. And it comes at a delicate moment, when the United Nations is facing the threat of severe budget cuts from congressional Republicans and some in the White House.

Last week, the New York Times obtained a draft White House executive order calling for steep cuts of up to 40 percent of U.S. voluntary funding to the U.N., potentially crippling popular U.N. agencies like the World Food Program and UNICEF. But U.S. officials have since backed away from putting the draft, which has been reviewed by Foreign Policy, before the president for signing.

Guterres, hoping to start off on the right foot with Trump, has sought to avoid an open confrontation over the ban, initially leaving it to his spokesman to issue a mildly worded appeal to bring an end to it as soon as possible.

Facing criticism for holding his fire, Guterres issued a statement Tuesday saying that while all governments had an obligation to prevent terrorist infiltration of their borders, they cannot discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or nationality.

In his remarks Wednesday, Guterres tried to avoid weighing on possible budget cuts. “When we talk too much about things that have not happened, you trigger the happening of those things,” he said.

Instead, Guterres said he would focus his energies on doing everything he can to “prove the added value of the U.N.” and to pursue reforms that will persuade the United States and other governments that the organization merits their support.

Trump’s order has triggered protests at airports around the country and fueled widespread condemnation from American friends and foes. Even British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has sought to cultivate warm ties with Trump, issued a mild statement late Saturday noting: “We do not agree with this kind of approach, and it is not one we will be taking.”

But Guterres was less diplomatic about Trump’s most controversial executive order, which bars travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — for 90 days and which bars travelers from Syria indefinitely.

He said Trump’s measures “indeed violate our basic principles” regarding the treatment of refugees. “And I think they are not very effective, if the objective is to really avoid terrorists entering the United States.”

International terrorists, he added, are highly sophisticated adversaries who would be more likely to dispatch suicide bombers with passports from developed countries than from the world’s hot spots or recruit home-grown disaffected radicals to carry out terrorist attacks. It’s important, he concluded, not to impose measures “that spread anxiety and anger” that encourages the recruitment of such people.

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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