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Trump Pushes The U.N. To 'Focus On Results'


This is the time of year when world leaders converge on the East Side of Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly. This time all eyes are on President Trump, who's been a critic of the United Nations. Trump needs the help of some key members to keep North Korea and Iran in check. That's likely what he'll talk about when he addresses the assembly tomorrow. He made his first appearance today. NPR's Michele Kelemen begins our coverage.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley eased President Trump into the U.N. today with a brief session on a topic that certainly appeals to him - cutting the bureaucracy and making the world body more efficient.


NIKKI HALEY: Donald Trump has a businessman's eye for seeing potential. And he sees great potential not just in this reform movement but in the United Nations itself.

KELEMEN: Without missing a beat, the real estate mogul-turned-U.S. president mentioned his high rise just across the street.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you. And it was only for the reason that the United Nations was here that that turned out to be such a successful project.

KELEMEN: The U.N., though, has not reached its full potential, Trump told officials from over 120 countries who had to sign a pledge supporting a U.N. reform agenda to be in the room for his remarks. He says the U.N. staff has more than doubled since 2000, and the U.S. has not seen results in line with this investment.


TRUMP: We seek a United Nations that regains the trust of the people around the world. In order to achieve this, the United Nations must hold every level of management accountable, protect whistleblowers and focus on results rather than on process.

KELEMEN: In this, Trump has a partner in U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who's eager to keep the U.S. engaged.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: Someone recently asked what keeps me up at night. And my answer was simple - bureaucracy, fragmented structures, Byzantine procedures and endless red tape.

KELEMEN: He says he wants the U.N. to be more agile in conflict mediation and more effective in peacekeeping. And he's clearly working hard to build a constructive relationship with a U.S. president who once dismissed the U.N. as a club where people get together, talk and have a good time. The U.S. is the largest donor to the U.N., covering about 22 percent of the budget and closer to 28 percent for U.N. peacekeeping, and activists are worried about the heavy focus on U.S. budget cuts at a time of great need.

Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam America, an aid advocacy group, is just back from South Sudan, one of four countries where the U.N. is warning of a looming famine.

ABBY MAXMAN: People's lives are at stake. And now is not the time to cut. Now is the time to ensure that people in need have access to humanitarian support and services they require.

KELEMEN: We catch up on a noisy street near U.N. headquarters. She says the aid cuts that the Trump administration initially proposed to Congress are draconian. The lawmakers are pushing back. Maxman says she'll be watching the administration closely this week, hoping the U.S. will remain a leader on humanitarian topics.

MAXMAN: I know, having just come back from South Sudan, for example, which is dealing with protracted conflict, that prospects for peace are better when the United States and all partners are serious and have serious commitments to peace building, humanitarian relief and development.

KELEMEN: Back inside U.N. headquarters, Ambassador Nikki Haley was trying to reassure her colleagues and the U.N. secretary general that the U.S. is not stepping back.


HALEY: We share the goal of a better United Nations - not a cheaper U.N. or a more expensive U.N., not a smaller one or a bigger one - a better United Nations.

KELEMEN: Also, it seems, a U.N. with shorter meetings. That one lasted less than 15 minutes. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.