President Obama opened a three-day series of meetings at the United Nations on Sunday by calling on all countries to “step up” efforts to eradicate poverty, and by scheduling a meeting on Tuesday with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro.
Addressing a U.N. meeting on sustainable development, Obama said that the world has made progress on reducing hunger, improving the treatment of disease, and lifting people out of poverty, but challenges remain.
“We are also here today because we understand that our work is nowhere near done,” Obama told delegates who gathered for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly. “We can take pride in what we’ve accomplished, but we cannot be complacent.”
Development programs are working, Obama said, but results can improve if the U.S. and other countries can address such issues as bad governance; gender, racial, and income inequality; fulfilling the economic potential of Africa; and the ravages of wars.
Illustrating some of these challenges, Obama said it is “a moral outrage” that “many children are just one mosquito bite away from death.” He also said that, “today, some 60 million men, women and children have been forced from their homes, many by conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa.”
Obama also cited the global challenge he plans to emphasize throughout his U.N. meetings: climate change. “All of our countries will be affected by a changing climate,” Obama said, but he added that “the world’s poorest people will bear the heaviest burden.”
As Obama flew to New York City aboard Air Force One early Sunday, the White House announced an addition to his U.N. schedule: the Tuesday meeting with Castro, Obama’s second face-to-face with the communist leader since the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in late 2014.
They met in April on the sidelines of a Summit of Americas meeting in Panama. The two also spoke by phone earlier this month, before the visit of Pope Francis to both Cuba and the United States.
This is Castro’s first trip to the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
After speaking at a mid-afternoon meeting on the U.N.’s global development agenda, Obama visited the U.S. mission to the United Nations to meet with employees and their families.
Obama turned to domestic politics Sunday evening as he delivered remarks at a Democratic National Committee LGBT gala.
In addition to his annual address to the countries that make up the U.N. General Assembly — something Obama will do Monday morning — United Nations week gives the president a chance to meet one-on-one with a select group of other world leaders.
Beyond Castro, Obama’s meeting list this year includes India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, and a potentially tense session with Russia President Vladimir Putin.
Topics for the Putin meeting include U.S. objections to what it calls Russian aggression in Ukraine and concern about a Russian military build-up in Syria.
“Our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine will be front and center throughout our discussions,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
U.S. officials have also criticized Russian support for embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Putin, who authorized a Russian annexation of the Ukraine area, says he will protect the interests of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, and still objects to what he has called a 2014 “coup” of a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.
As for Syria, Putin says he wants to help fight the Islamic State, and he criticized the U.S. for backing Syrian rebels seeking to topple Assad.
The American “provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations charter,” Putin said on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
The White House also said Sunday that, during his Air Force One flight, Obama spoke by phone with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
In addition to discussing the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Obama also offered Bachelet condolences for a Sept. 16 earthquake in Chile “and inquired about the status of rebuilding and recovery efforts.”
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