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As U.N. Leaders Prepare To Meet, Many Issues Vie For Attention


The United States says its airstrikes overnight were conducted against ISIS, which is not a recognized state.


But the strikes against the ISIS capital Raqqa were within a recognized state - Syria.

CORNISH: The government of Bashar al-Assad says it was informed shortly before the attacks - that does not necessarily mean Syria's government formally approved.

INSKEEP: And the United Nation's Security Council did not give its consent either. That may complicate high level discussions as world leaders meet in the coming days at the U.N.

CORNISH: ISIS is just one of a series of crises diplomats face all at once. NPR's Michele Kelemen is in New York.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As a former policy planning director at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter is used to keeping on top of the world's problems. But these days the president of the New America Foundation says it's hard to believe how many crises there are.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I look at the newspapers every day and think what next? I mean, how many crises can you cram into the space of a week, a month, a year?

KELEMEN: And she says the U.S. can't simply ignore problems in a world this complex.

SLAUGHTER: Where you have a global pandemic, newly aggressive Russia, a complicated deal with Iran and an entire region imploding with terrorism, refugees, destabilization, all at the same time and that's just - that's not even including the East China Sea.

KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council has been deadlocked over some of these issues. Russia has veto powers, so while the Council has met numerous times on Ukraine, it's taken no real action that could ease tensions there. Russia also uses its influence to shield the Syrian regime, which the U.S. describes as a magnet for terrorism. Slaughter doesn't expect much to get done on those issues.

SLAUGHTER: And that's where you have to understand that U.N. General Assembly is what happens in the hall and what happens in the lobby. In the U.S.-led coalition, with respect to Syria, and the U.S. and the E.U. with respect to Ukraine.

KELEMEN: President Obama is placing a big emphasis this week on the issue of foreign fighters, especially those flocking to Iraq and Syria. A draft U.N. Security Council resolution expected to be adopted Wednesday would give countries more tools to stop the flow of fighters and money to terrorist groups. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, says there must be a global coalition on this issue as well as on Ebola.


SAMANTHA POWER: Both of these threats I think illustrate the founding purpose of the United Nations and the purpose of bringing the heads of state to the United Nations together every season. Which is how do we pool our resources to cooperate, not only to deal with common threats, but to deal with threats we simply - no single nation can deal with alone.

KELEMEN: Some diplomats describe this U.N. gathering as a week of speed dating. The assistant Secretary-General for strategic planning at the UN, Robert Orr, prefers to use sports analogies.


ROBERT ORR: The World Series, the Super Bowl and the World Cup all combined in one. In fact this year it feels exactly like that. It's not just that you have a huge attendance but you also have very different games going on.

KELEMEN: His job is to keep countries' focus not just on multiple crises around the globe but also on the broader U.N. issues. Setting new development goals and discussing climate change.

ORR: There is cooperation on climate change where people are recognizing their common interest and once they start working together, investing together, it makes it much more difficult to go into the room next door and then have it out on another issue. It doesn't make it impossible but it makes it much more difficult.

KELEMEN: Orr says the Secretary-General will be making a big push this week to encourage countries to support U.N. agencies that are pulled in many different directions.

ORR: We're asking a lot from governments, but that's exactly what the situation requires.

KELEMEN: Orr says the intensity and the range of issues facing the world body are unprecedented. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.