UN General Assembly Daily Brief: Soft power, a secret atomic warehouse, and news from elsewhere

UN General Assembly Daily Brief: Soft power, a secret atomic warehouse, and news from elsewhere
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Good morning, UNGA survivors!

“The party is almost over,” one security guard told us at the UN Plaza entrance. “Yay!”

While the UN summit continues until Oct. 5, its highest-profile events and speeches conclude today. Many heads of state have already returned home (more hors d’oeuvres for the rest of us.)

This is the final issue of Quartz’s daily guide to UNGA 2018. You can find the past week’s briefings and coverage collected here.

Expect rain this morning and temperatures in the mid-60sF (18 Celsius). Evening travelers are in luck; the sky should clear up by midday.

See you next year!

What to watch for

Soft power 101. Secretary-General António Guterres convenes national emissaries for a three-hour discussion on tactics to instill “a culture of peace”—in contrast to “glorification of violence based on racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance.”

Follow the money. Nigeria and Norway lead an event on how illicit financial flows enable crime and terrorism, and exacerbate corruption and inequality—and how to fix the system.

Blockchain for sustainable development. Blockchain technology has featured in events on UNGA’s sidelines. Now states including France and Germany will discuss how to use distributed ledger technologies to finance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Where do we go from here? The risk of optimism is forgetting our failures. As the week draws to a close, representatives from the European Union, the World Bank, and the UN will take a look at what worked—and what didn’t—over the past ten years of rebuilding after crises around the world.

📺 At 3:30pm EDT, tune in for Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s press conference.

📚 Read up on the neurochemistry of PTSD, as explained by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Chart interlude

In some cases, one country’s decision can be devastating to the UN. The US funds almost 50% of UNHCR. (Amanda Shendruk)
In some cases, one country’s decision can be devastating to the UN. The US funds almost 50% of UNHCR. (Amanda Shendruk)

What everyone is talking about

Who steps in when the US steps out? The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has already raised 85% of the $300 million that the US pulled this August, officials say. Contributors include Germany, the EU, and Japan. UNRWA supports over five million refugees and educates 500,000 children.

Common ground in Syria. Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the US issued a joint statement calling for the UN to write a new constitution for Syria.

Show me the satellite images. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to have pictures of a previously unreported Iranian nuclear facility. He also gave directions to it:

“Now for those of you at home using Google Earth, this no-longer-secret atomic warehouse is on Maher Alley, Maher Street. You have the coordinates, you can try to get there. And for those of you who try to get there, it’s 100 meters from the Kalishoi, the rug cleaning operation. By the way, I hear they do a fantastic job cleaning rugs there. But by now they may be radioactive rugs.”

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s claims as an “art and craft show.”

Surprise statements. Donald Trump and Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas both unambiguously called for a two-state solution. In direct contradiction to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said it was time to relax sanctions on North Korea.

What should have been on the General Debate agenda

Thanks to all the readers who suggested discussion topics for the general assembly. Alain from Switzerland managed to capture the sentiments of many, writing, “Stop spending so much money at these gigantic meetings, where no action is taken. We need to redefine the UN. It is inefficient and highly costly.”

Missing in action

In Manila, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte confessed to extrajudicial killings, describing them as “my only sin.” Xi Jinping inspected an oil refinery in northeast China. Back in Washington, DC, Trump reportedly fumed over a credible sexual assault testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Photo of the day

Palestinians watch a television broadcast of Mahmoud Abbas's speech, in the central Gaza Strip
Palestinians watch a television broadcast of Mahmoud Abbas’s speech, in the central Gaza Strip.
Image: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Overheard at UNGA

“There was a feeling after the financial crisis, when the banking sector collapsed, that it was partly the fault of men who had lost some touch with reality. They had grown in arrogance and recklessness, rather than showing caution and modesty.”—Icelandic president Guðni Jóhannesson on the origins of Iceland’s gender equality campaign.

“I represent my countrymen very well.”—Former Congolese basketball player Dikembe Mutombo, joking about how fast he learned English, at the Bloomberg Business Forum.

“Always have an ask in your back pocket. That way if I see Mike Pompeo in the hallway and I’ve got ten minutes to ask for something, I’m ready.”—US state department official.

“It’s good to finally see people of color taking over the world! We know what the problems are; we can fix them.”—Attendee at the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event.

What UNGA’s event titles really mean

It’s no secret that UN event titles are murderously boring; after we re-titled some of the worst offenders last year, UN assistant secretary-general Magdy Martínez-Solimán saw fit to tweet them. This year, we’re offering the same service.

Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies
Translation: The world is falling apart and people don’t care about the UN. Thoughts?

Data Driving Change: EM2030 SDG Gender Index Launch
Translation: You may struggle to understand how bad gender discrimination is; here are some charts to help.

Impact of Corruption and the Lack of Accountability on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria
Translation: Umpire! Nigeria is cheating on development goals!

Acronym of the day

The last official UNGA acronym of this series is: SUMAMAD

The true meaning of SUMAMAD will be shared in the next Daily Brief. Sign up here, if you haven’t yet, or prepare for SUMAMAD to keep you up at night.

For those who played yesterday, OSEMOSYS means Open Source Energy Modeling System. Of course.

It’s not goodbye

After this, we’ll be sending you our regular Quartz Daily Brief as well as coverage from future policy emails. If that’s not for you, simply unsubscribe at the bottom of this email.

News from around the world

A high-stakes hearing electrified the US Senate. After Christine Blasey Ford told lawmakers that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her more than 30 years ago, Kavanaugh angrily denied the accusations. Republican senator Lindsay Graham blasted his Democratic colleagues, saying, ”What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life,” while Donald Trump reaffirmed his support for the nominee after the hearing concluded.

Italy’s government finally agreed on a budget. It will target a deficit of 2.4% of the country’s GDP for the next three years, defying the EU’s calls for the figure to be closer to 1.7%. Traders dumped Italian bonds in reaction.

A Chinese company may become the world’s most valuable startup. A planned $3 billion round of funding, led by SoftBank, could put the value of Bytedance at $75 billion. The company owns news aggregator Toutiao, the app, and video sensation Tik Tok.

Matters of debate

Crypto and cannabis are the perfect post-crisis bubbles. Though the financial crisis pushed us toward boring, safe investments, our gambling instinct (paywall) can be repressed for only so long.

We should get 40 days off a year. Not all employees observe the same holidays, and unlimited time off is resulting in people taking fewer days off.

America’s legislative system is broken. Congress has outsourced most of its authority to the White House, transforming the Supreme Court into a substitute political battleground.

Surprising discoveries

A cosmic ray is flying out of Antarctica’s ice. The high-energy particles blast through space, into Earth, and back again—something physicists say shouldn’t happen.

Doctors are using poetry to soothe patients. Music and poetry have been shown to trigger a response in the brain that can help reduce pain and even cut down on opioid usage.

We’re getting close to the dream of nuclear fusion power plants. Over the last decade, the number of privately-funded startups working on fusion has ballooned.

Our best wishes for a productive and peaceful day. Please send tips, gossip, and leftover hors d’oeuvres to You will still be able to read our UNGA 2018 coverage here. And if you have colleagues or friends who might enjoy future special-edition emails, be a leader and forward this along.