Morning Brief

The 75th Session of the U.N. General Assembly Opens

Putin sends aid to Lukashenko, violence in Ivory Coast, and Japan's new leader.

The General Assembly Hall of the United Nations is seen from the floor.
The General Assembly Hall of the United Nations is seen from the floor on May 12, 2006, in New York. Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.N. General Assembly convenes virtually for its historic 75th session, Putin offers a massive loan to Lukashenko as his commitment to Belarus deepens, and protests in the Ivory Coast against President Alassane Ouattara turn violent.

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Pandemic Front and Center as UNGA Meets

The 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly opens today against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives of the U.N. member states will deliver virtual addresses before meeting next week to discuss this year’s priority issues, including long-term sustainable development and the unprecedented loss of global biodiversity.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for an extended “people’s debate” that “promises to be the largest and furthest-reaching global conversation ever on building the future we want.” The general debate will begin on Sept. 22.

The big issue. Efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic will form a key part of next week’s proceedings as global cases continue to rise. On Friday, the General Assembly passed a sweeping resolution calling for “intensified international cooperation and solidarity to contain, mitigate and overcome the pandemic and its consequences.”

But a discussion on pandemic relief efforts could prove to be a contentious affair. The United States and Israel were the only two states to vote against last week’s resolution, and U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently shown himself to be an opponent of multilateralism and a critic of the United Nations.

Peacebuilding. The General Assembly will also include discussions on global peace efforts, including the moves toward peace currently underway in Afghanistan. Representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government recently began long-awaited talks with each other in an attempt to end their decades-long conflict. In November 2019, the General Assembly passed a resolution welcoming efforts by the Afghan government to promote a peace process led by Afghans.

Snapback coming back? Washington could use the General Assembly to rehash its prior attempt to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Last month, U.S. officials tried to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have extended the deadline of the moratorium on arms sales to Iran. Its failure to do so led Washington to try to trigger the nuclear deal’s snapback mechanism, which allows signatories to reimpose all pre-2015 U.N. sanctions on Iran. The United States has faced considerable resistance to this effort on the grounds that it has withdrawn from the deal, but next week’s debate could give it another opportunity to circumvent the other big players.

What We’re Following Today

New leader in Japan. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly for Yoshihide Suga to replace outgoing party leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, setting him up to become Japan’s next premier at a parliamentary vote later this week. A close political ally of Abe and a longtime top official, Suga’s approach to government will largely mirror his predecessor’s. He has already signalled that his priority is stability, not innovation.

As William Sposato wrote for Foreign Policy, Suga’s personal preference might be to adopt Abe’s unwillingness to confront China head on, but he will have to contend with an increasingly restive faction within its own party that sees China as a threat and a rival.

TikTok could have a deal. Trump administration officials will review a “technical partnership” between the software company Oracle and ByteDance this week ahead of Trump’s executive order banning TikTok is due to go into effect. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the deal will be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment, an interagency body that can block business sales if it believes they threaten U.S. national security.

The proposed partnership is not the full sale that Trump originally demanded, but it could be enough to ensure that TikTok can continue to operate in the United States. The ban is expected to go into effect on Sept. 20.

Putin commits money to Lukashenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised a $1.5 billion loan to embattled Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko during a meeting between the two leaders in Moscow on Monday, a day after more than 100,000 people gathered in the streets of Minsk to protest against Lukashenko’s rule. The loan is an important show of support on Russia’s part, and is the latest effort by Putin to deepen his involvement in the crisis. Last month, he formed a reserve police unit and promised to use it in Belarus if Lukashenko requested it.

Once considered a staunch ally of Moscow, Lukashenko fell out of the Kremlin’s favor in the months leading up to the Aug. 9 presidential election, but he has since reingratiated himself to the Russian president as his grip on power has weakened.

Keep an Eye On

Violence in the Ivory Coast. Protests against Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term as president have turned violent in the country’s largest city, Abidjan. The violence centered on a district loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo, whose loss to Ouattara in the presidential election in 2010 plunged the country into a civil war that killed around 3,000 people. The recent surge of violence has raised concerns that next month’s election could spark a return to war.

Ouattara has faced widespread criticism due to the constitution’s ban on individuals serving more than two terms as president. But he and his supporters argue that because the constitution was ratified in 2016, it does not apply to Ouattara, who started his term in office in 2010.

Palestinians question the Arab League. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said his government will recommend to President Mahmoud Abbas that he reconsider relations with the Arab League as more Arab countries move toward normalizing relations with Israel. A meeting of Arab League nations last week failed to produce a resolution denouncing normalization efforts, despite the Palestinian delegation chairing the meeting. It is considered a sign that the priority of many Arab states has shifted away from backing Palestinian statehood to confronting the threat posed by Iran.

Palestinians have reacted angrily to the decision by the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to open diplomatic relations with Israel, and residents of the Gaza Strip have taken to the streets to protest the recent move by Bahrain in recent days.

The Trump administration will hold a signing ceremony at the White House today to formalize the deal with the UAE and the intent for Israel and Bahrain to normalize ties.

Odds and Ends

A recent discovery on Venus could be a sign that there is life on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. On Monday, scientists said they discovered high levels of a gas called phosphine in Venus’s harsh atmosphere. Although they didn’t find any actual life forms, phosphine is known to be the byproduct of several microbial forms of life in oxygen-starved environments on Earth. “With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Clara Sousa-Silva, a molecular astrophysicist and co-author of the study publicizing the discovery.

That’s it for today.

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Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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