The United States is hoping to focus on its global partnerships as world leaders take part in high-level talks at the United Nations next week, the country’s UN ambassador has said.

During a livestreamed interview with the publication Foreign Policy on Friday morning, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington is committed to multilateralism at the UN.

“Me and my team, we’re working around the clock with the administration to engage in this multilateral forum,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

She added that US President Joe Biden will attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA) next week as well. “He will be highlighting to the world our commitment to the United Nations.”

The ambassador’s comments come amid questions around the Biden administration’s commitment to the global body as it puts more energy into a slew of bilateral agreements and regional diplomacy.

Other observers also have pointed out that Biden will be the only top leader from the UN Security Council’s five permanent veto-wielding members who plans to attend next week’s event at UN headquarters in New York City.

The heads of state from the other four permanent members — France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom — are skipping the General Debate, the most widely watched event in the UN’s annual calendar, which begins on Tuesday.

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“The absence of other heads of state, you have to engage with them on why they’re not here — but their countries, most of them will be represented at senior levels,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday.

Approximately 150 heads of state and government ministers are due to turn up in person next week for the General Assembly, which offers a chance for countries to present issues of particular concern in a series of live public speeches.

In-person attendance has steadily recovered since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced leaders three years ago to send in prerecorded video messages due to safety precautions. The UN is composed of 193 member states.

Biden “is eager to use this trip [to the UN] to advance US interests and values on a range of issues”, such as tackling the climate crisis and boosting support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

The US president will also meet with several world leaders during the event, Sullivan told reporters, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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The climate crisis and the war in Ukraine are expected to figure prominently during this year’s talks, with Zelenskyy attending in person for the first time since the conflict broke out.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Zelenskyy will attend the UN General Assembly talks next week [Yves Herman/Pool via AP Photo]

The Ukrainian president is expected to address the General Assembly on Tuesday and speak at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday that could place him at the same table as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Zelenskyy will also travel to Washington, DC, on Thursday to meet with Biden at the White House and make a stop at the US Capitol.

Focus on Global South

Also high on the UNGA agenda this year will be concerns of the Global South, in part a reflection of the increased attention put on the developing world by Western nations eager to secure support for the effort to isolate Russia.

Several top-level meetings happening during the General Assembly focus on the priorities of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, including climate, health and financing for development.

They will also discuss how to get the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals — a shared “blueprint” for tackling poverty, inequality and environmental issues — back on track.

“This is a year when the countries of the Global South have set the agenda,” said Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group think tank.

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“Non-Western countries have played this moment quite effectively,” he said. “I think they have taken advantage of the fact that they know that the US, on one hand, and then Russia on the other, want their support.”

The event is also taking place amid heightened tensions and competition between the US and China. Washington and its allies have recently tried to counter Beijing’s growing influence in developing nations with their own pledges of money for development and climate aid.

Still, ahead of the New York meetings, diplomats acknowledged their focus on the developing world but dismissed suggestions that rivalry played a role.

For his part, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this week that the General Assembly will be “a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good”.

“And action is what the world needs now,” he told reporters.

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