Barack Obama will cement the new co-operative relationship between the US and the United Nations this month when he becomes the first American president to chair its 15-member Security Council.
The topic for the summit-level session of the council on September 24 is nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament – one of several global challenges that the US now wants to see addressed at a multinational level.
“The council has a very important role to play in preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons, and it’s the world’s principal body for dealing with global security cooperation,” Susan Rice, US envoy to the UN, said last week.
Her remarks were the latest by the Obama administration to emphasise a shift from the strategy of the previous Bush administration, sometimes criticised by its UN partners for seeking to use the world body principally to endorse its own unilateral policies. The US currently holds the month-long rotating presidency of the Security Council.
Mr Obama will join other heads of government in New York during the week of the nuclear summit for the opening of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. The annual meeting of world leaders is this year raising expectations on a number of fronts.
UN officials hope a climate change debate on September 22 will give fresh impetus to the search for a global climate deal at Copenhagen in December. There are also hopes a possible meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, that Mr Obama would host, could lead to a breakthrough about a timetable for Middle East peace.
Heads of state are also likely to consider how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mr Obama gave Tehran a September deadline to reply to his offer of negotiations. Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad will attend the General Assembly “to encourage Iranian views in managing the world,” an aide said.
US officials are concerned Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi might try to steal the limelight during his first visit to New York. A public outcry at the Libyan leader’s visit after he last month welcomed home Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the freed Lockerbie bomber, has already stymied his plans to pitch his tent in Central Park.
“How President Gaddafi chooses to comport himself, when he attends the General Assembly and the Security Council in New York, has the potential either to further aggravate those feelings and emotions or not,” Ms Rice said.
The State Department has not ruled out the possibility that Mr Obama and Colonel Gaddafi would cross paths. They are both due to address the General Assembly on the same day, and the Libyan leader, whose country is a temporary member of the Security Council, is entitled to attend the nuclear summit session that Mr Obama will chair.