Launching into his impassioned 30-minute speech at the United Nations Wednesday, President Joe Biden accused Russia of having "shamelessly violated" a core tenet of the U.N. charter prohibiting the taking of another country by force.
Everything the U.N. stands for is at risk if Russia can take another nation by force, Biden told the annual gathering of world leaders as Russia takes steps to rebuild its military.
"Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe," Biden said, "that should make your blood run cold."
Speaking days after he angered China by once again promising to come to Taiwan's aid if China attacks, Biden said the United States continues "to oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side."
Biden’s international stature has strengthened, in part, because of his successful role weathering the crisis in Ukraine. It's a sharp departure from his stance during his inaugural United Nations address last year, delivered soon after the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But despite the praise he's received for building a coalition of support for Ukraine, he still faces a mountain of international problems – including trying to keep the pressure on Russia as its war against its neighbor grinds on, and Europe prepares to survive a winter without Russian gas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is not attending the gathering, announced a partial military mobilization in a televised address to his nation Wednesday as Ukraine's counteroffensive continued to push his invasion troops back toward the Russian border.
U.S. tensions with China have escalated since last year, and continue to flare every time Biden says – as he did again recently – that U.S. forces will help defend Taiwan if China attacks.
The U.S. and Iran are still in a standoff over attempts to revive a 2015 deal to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
And back home, growing numbers of Mexicans, Hondurans, Cubans and Venezuelans are coming across the U.S.-Mexico border causing a humanitarian crisis and political headache.
Here's what happened:
Ukraine war is a top topic
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Europe’s first major war since World War II – looms over the gathering and was the first subject Biden addressed.
Ukraine recently forced Russian troops into a retreat in the north, regaining hundreds of square miles of territory. But it remains to be seen whether Ukraine can consolidate its gains, and Europe is facing an energy crisis as Russia cuts off supplies of cheap natural gas.
This week’s U.N. meetings are a chance for the Biden administration to take stock of “whether or not Vladimir Putin and Russian diplomats continue to be isolated within the U.N. system, within the international organizations,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute in Washington focusing on foreign policy and national security.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was scheduled to address the general assembly remotely on Wednesday.
Is Taiwan next?
Biden emphasized principles stated in the United Nations’ charter on self-determination and international order that can both help rally continued support for Ukraine and also address China's saber-rattling against Taiwan.
"The U.N. charter’s very basis of a stable and just rule-based order is under attack by those who wish to tear down or distort it for their own political advantage," Biden said. "And the United Nations charter was not only signed by democracies of the world, it was negotiated among citizens of dozens of nations with vastly different histories and ideologies, united in their commitment to work for peace."
It’s an argument that could be better received by other countries than Biden’s frequent framing of geopolitical issues as the battle of democracies versus autocracies, according to Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank in Washington.
Countries that don’t believe in democracy, or think the U.S. has an imperfect record in supporting democracies over other interests, could win over an audience that respects basic norms and rules about peaceful coexistence, Patrick said.
“That’s the sort of framing that is going to get the most applause at a place like the United Nations, where countries, for a variety of historical reasons, are understandably wary of aligning themselves too closely with either one bloc or another,” Patrick said.
Sending a warning to China
Biden provoked China when he said in a CBS interview Sunday that U.S. military forces would defend Taiwan if it’s attacked by China. He’d made a similar comment during a trip to Asia in May.
In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Biden violated the U.S.’s commitment not to support Taiwan’s independence.
Under a longtime policy of “strategic ambiguity,” the United States recognizes there is only one Chinese government, while expressing support for Taiwan’s ability to defend itself.
Biden said Wednesday that the U.S. remains committed to the "One China" policy. But he also warned against changes to the status quo, while asserting about the United States' growing competition with China, "We do not seek conflict."
Patrick said Biden’s comments and the subsequent clarifications are “unhelpful ambiguity.”
Lowering food prices
The war in Ukraine deepened what was already projected to be record levels of food insecurity in the world caused by rising costs, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and civil wars.
Biden announced more than $2.9 billion in new help, most of it emergency assistance for the hardest-hit countries. Other funding provides more medium and longer-term assistance through adding school feeding projects in Africa and East Asia and helping developing countries, including by boosting agriculture productivity.
Food security challenges will be particularly challenging next year, and that could lead to political instability in developing countries, said Romina Bandura, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another think tank in Washington.
“I’d like the West to respond more on the Ukraine front, both humanitarian-wise, not just for Ukraine, but for countries that are suffering because of the war,” she said.
Iran deal remains elusive
Biden has long promised to try to revive the Iran nuclear agreement from which the Trump administration withdrew. But a deal with Tehran remains elusive.
In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said he sees no differences between the Biden and Trump administrations and had no plans to meet with Biden at the U.N. Talking, he said, would not be beneficial.
Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, said the U.S. will consult with other members of the U.N. Security Council about Iran, which is likely to have its own conversations with other countries.
“I don’t expect a breakthrough,” he said.
There will be more opportunities for leaders to confer in person after three years of pandemic interruptions to the annual gathering.
“It’s an opportunity now, post-COVID with in-person travel, for important conversations to be had face-to-face on the sidelines,” Goldberg said.
Biden had his first sit-down with Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new prime minister. The issues they were expected to talk about included the war in Ukraine, China, energy issues and Northern Ireland.
In brief public remarks before their private meeting, Truss said she wants to work more closely with the U.S., especially on energy security and also on making sure that "democracies prevail."
While the leaders were also expected to discuss their joint economic relationship, both sides have said there’s no prospect anytime soon for a trade deal between the two nations.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In UN speech, Biden to call for unity around international rules