UNITED NATIONS, Sept 18 (AP): World leaders meeting at the United Nations starting Monday will be trying to make progress on two intractable problems at the top of the global agenda - the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year which has claimed over 300,000 lives.
Against a backdrop of rising ethnic and religious tension, fighting elsewhere in the Mideast and Africa, extremist attacks across the world and a warming planet, there are plenty of other issues for the 135 heads of state and government and more than 50 ministers expected to attend to try to tackle.
"It's no secret there's a lot of fear out there," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters Thursday, citing the uncertainties sparked by Britain's vote to leave the European Union, the threat posed by the Islamic State extremist group, and attacks in many parts of the world by IS and other terrorist groups.
But Syria, where a tense cease-fire brokered by Moscow and Washington went into effect last Monday, remains at the top of the agenda at the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting. An apparently errant airstrike on Saturday in which the U.S. military may have unintentionally struck Syrian troops while carrying out a raid against the Islamic State group could deal a crushing blow to the U.S.-Russian-brokered cease-fire. The cease-fire, which does not apply to attacks on IS, has largely held for five days despite dozens of alleged violations on both sides.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed emergency meeting Saturday night at Russia's request to discuss the airstrike.
The Security Council earlier had scheduled a ministerial meeting on Syria for Wednesday. Russia was pushing for a resolution to endorse the cessation of hostilities and look ahead, but the U.S. refused to make public details of the cease-fire deal citing "operational security." Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the U.S. uncooperative and said most likely "we're not going to have a resolution."
With the truce still fragile, no sign yet of humanitarian aid deliveries, and supporters and opponents of the Syrian government trading accusations, diplomats said there may be a meeting Tuesday of some 20 key countries on both sides who are part of the International Syria Support Group to chart the next steps.
The spotlight during the week is also certain to shine on three leaders, who are all scheduled to speak at the assembly's opening ministerial session on Tuesday morning.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who steps down on Dec. 31, and U.S. President Barack Obama who will leave office in January, will be addressing the 193-member world body for the last time. And British Prime Minister Theresa May will be making her debut on the world stage less than three months after the vote to leave the European Union.
In U.N. corridors and at private meetings, the question of Ban's successor will be a hot topic. Portugal's former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has topped all four informal polls in the Security Council but he could be vetoed, possibly by Russia, and there are constant rumors of new candidates throwing their hats in the ring.
The U.S. presidential race is already a hot topic at the U.N., and no doubt leaders will be privately discussing the impact of a victory by Hillary Clinton, and especially Donald Trump, on the United Nations where the United States is the largest financial contributor and has veto-wielding power in the Security Council.