Skip to navigationSkip to content

United Nations General Assembly 2018

This series decodes deals, political moves, and gossip at the world’s biggest political summit.

Trump attacked North Korea at last year's UN
AP Photo/Richard Drew
Trump set the agenda at last year’s UN General Assembly.
THE BIGGEST STAGE

The speakers to watch at the UN General Assembly this year

Global leaders will press their agendas from the biggest pulpit in the world at the UN General Assembly this week.

At the UN’s General Debate, every world leader is given a slot to speak about whatever’s on their mind, though many send their foreign ministers or UN ambassadors in their place. China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Germany’s Angela Merkel are high-profile absentees this year.

Last year, Donald Trump—who speaks second, per tradition—set the agenda with a threat to “totally destroy” North Korea and emphasis on “America First,” at the organization pledged to international peace and cooperation. Speeches by heads of state who followed couldn’t help but sound like responses to the US president’s bombast. “He played the UN like a fiddle,” says Richard Gowan, a senior fellow at the United Nations University. “[It] was pretty masterfully done.”

This year, which global leader’s remarks will set the General Assembly atwitter? Here are seven speakers to watch.

Donald Trump (USA)

The US president is likely to call out North Korea and Iran again. If his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton has anything to do with the speech, prepare for bombast. Last year, Trump mentioned “sovereignty” 21 times, and branded the multilateral Iran nuclear deal “one of the worst and most one-sided” agreements ever.

Emmanuel Macron (France)

At this event last year, the French leader said exactly the opposite of Trump on almost subject. As Trump is expected to emphasize sovereignty again, expect Macron to make a staunch defense of multilateralism.

Hassan Rouhani (Iran)

The Iranian president trolled Donald Trump with a poem last year, before bluntly calling the new US administration “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.” Now that the US has backed out of Iran’s multilateral nonproliferation deal, the gloves are really off in 2018.

Shinzo Abe (Japan)

Abe comes to New York fresh from a leadership vote that should make him Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. He has sideline meetings scheduled with Trump and Rouhani, and will likely have choice words for North Korea.

Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria)

Buhari will address UNGA following a year in which his health has remained a hot-button issue. Facing re-election in early 2019, his government has failed to contain both Boko Haram and a wave of violent attacks on civilians by herdsmen. Weeks after signing a defense pact with the UK’s Theresa May, Buhari is expected to hold meetings with UN secretary general António Guterres and other African leaders.

Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa)

Ramaphosa comes to New York with a delegation of ministers just weeks after accusing Trump of sowing division in South Africa. The US president had tweeted that he would ask his State Department to investigate South African “land and farm seizures… and the large scale killing of farmers.”

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Egypt)

One of few leaders scheduled to meet Trump in person, Sisi is also expected to meet European leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron. In his General Assembly speech, Sisi is expected to address terrorism and the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.