TIME United Nations

For President Obama, a Swan Song on the Global Stage in Final U.N. Speech

President Obama Meets With Iranian PM In New York
Anthony Behar—Pool/Getty Images President Obama attends a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel on Sept. 19, 2016 in New York City.

The White House has cast Obama's address as one of his final opportunities to define how his leadership has made the planet safer and more prosperous

(UNITED NATIONS) — Standing before the United Nations for the last time as president, Barack Obama will reassure foreign leaders that the world is better equipped to tackle its challenges than at almost any point in history despite a cascade of harrowing crises that seem devoid of viable solutions.

Obama’s speech is always a focal point of the annual U.N. General Assembly, but his address Tuesday also marks Obama’s swan song on the international stage. He stepped into his role eight years ago with sky-high expectations and has struggled to deliver when it comes to solving global problems partially beyond America’s control.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the president was cognizant of the fact that bright spots such as economic growth and climate change cooperation are offset by the “great deal of unease” in the world, including Syria’s civil war and concerns about Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.

“The way the president will approach this is trying to apply what we have done that’s worked in the last eight years as a template for how we deal with other crises,” Rhodes said.

He cited diplomatic achievements on Iran and global warming and outreach to former U.S adversaries Cuba and Myanmar as illustrative of the approach Obama hoped would continue after he leaves office.

Yet it will be hard for world leaders to look beyond the pressing problems that are shadowing this year’s U.N. confab.

Just as Obama and fellow heads of state were gathering Monday, Syria’s military declared the week-old cease-fire over following numerous breaches and airstrikes hitting an aid convoy to a distressed part of Syria, which the U.S. blamed on Syria or Russia. The setbacks were fresh indicators that even the most hard-fought diplomatic gambles have failed to lessen the violence in Syria for any lasting stretch of time.

And hanging over the U.N. gathering was a weekend bombing a short subway ride away that New York’s mayor has declared an act of terror. Security in Manhattan, already high in light of the U.N. summit, was further tightened.

Despite these concerns, the White House has cast Obama’s address as one of his final opportunities to define how his leadership has made the planet safer and more prosperous. Obama’s aides have focused on how the U.S. has a fraction of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than it had when Obama took office and how nations are finally poised to act in concert to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Obama’s other major priority at the U.N. this year is to force more aggressive action to mitigate the worst refugee crisis since World War II, stemming in large part from the Syria war. In addition to his speech, Obama on Tuesday planned to host a summit on refugees. The idea is for nations to show up with concrete commitments to accept and support more refugees, and Obama’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, said the U.S. told several nations that their initial offers were insufficient.

The Obama administration has emphasized that a half-dozen other countries including Germany and Jordan are co-hosting the summit, but it’s largely been a U.S.-driven endeavor.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in New York contributed to this report.

 

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