“We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a column in collaboration with Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen network, a premier group of next generation foreign policy leaders committed to principled American engagement in the world. This column elevates the voices of diverse young leaders as they establish themselves as authorities in their areas of expertise and expose readers to new ideas and priorities. Here you can read about emergent perspectives, policies, risks, and opportunities that will shape the future of US foreign policy.
The 77th session of the UN General Assembly began yesterday, with world leaders flocking to New York. Notably, the leaders of China, India, Ethiopia, and Russia are not attending. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is also not in attendance due to the war but was allowed to give a prerecorded speech. This morning, President Joe Biden addressed the international community, pointing out that President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats show a “reckless disregard” for Russia’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
While the war in Ukraine and climate change will be center stage of this year’s session, other topics, such as the status of Iran’s nuclear program and how to prevent pandemics also need to be addressed. Two members of Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative discuss these issues below.
THE UNLIKELY CASE OF RENEWING THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is attending the 77th session of the UN General Assembly after skipping the event last year. Raisi’s attendance comes after talks stalled between the European Union, the United States, and Iran over the deal’s latest draft. Raisi will likely use his platform at the UN General Assembly to lay blame for the failed talks at the US’ feet and advocate for lifting sanctions on Iran. Anti-government protests have wracked the country this week, with demonstrators railing against the country’s hijab rules and the rising cost of necessities. While far from the only factor making life difficult in Iran, the sanctions regime has further escalated the cost of living.
Raisi’s visit to the UN General Assembly could serve as an opportunity to strengthen backchannel diplomacy between the two countries.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, is continuing its attempted resuscitation of the Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. Polling from Data for Progress demonstrates that Americans remain divided on a return to the nuclear deal with 45% of likely voters saying they would be “more likely” or “much more likely” to vote for a candidate who supported a renewed nuclear deal with Iran. Fifteen percent of respondents were “less likely” or “much less likely” to vote for a candidate who supported the deal, while 40% were undecided or indifferent. Raisi’s visit to the UN General Assembly could serve as an opportunity to strengthen backchannel diplomacy between the two countries. However, Raisi has publicly reiterated his opposition to meeting with Biden during the UN.
According to his spokesperson, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres is also interested in reviving the nuclear deal. In the leadup to the UN General Assembly, Guterres has reportedly spoken with several parties involved in the Iran nuclear talks, including Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, over the phone. This year, Biden is reportedly scheduling a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly annual session to set the stage for a new deal. The Obama administration encountered steep opposition from then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the deal first took shape. Unfortunately, selling the Israelis on the deal will likely remain a thorn in the Democrats’ side.
The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors also met in Vienna, before the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. The nuclear watchdog reportedly stated that it “cannot assure” the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA has conducted a years-long investigation into Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials are clamoring to end. Following the report, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany released a joint statement saying they had “serious doubts” about Iran’s intentions to return to the deal. Without a green light from the IAEA, reaching a renewed agreement on the Iran deal will be difficult for the Biden administration and the Europeans to stomach, regardless of Guterres’ best efforts.
Zoe H. Robbin is a Fulbright research fellow in Jordan, where she focuses on political economy, technology, gender, and migration. She serves on the Middle East and Diplomacy Working Groups for Foreign Policy for America’s (FP4A) NextGen Initiative.
USING US DIPLOMACY TO TACKLE EPIDEMICS
Alongside the UN General Assembly, the Biden administration is hosting the 7th replenishment fundraising conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria today. Coming on the heels of a multi-billion-dollar COVID-19 response, the Global Fund seeks to raise record amounts from international donors to regain progress toward ending the AIDS, TB, and malaria epidemics by 2030 following widespread service disruptions in 2020 and 2021.
US diplomacy is critical to reaching the Global Fund’s target and unlocking the full $6 billion from the United States.
By investing in critical therapeutics, improving countries’ diagnostic capacities, and strengthening national health systems, the Global Fund estimates that reaching its fundraising goal of $18 billion over three years could save an additional 20 million lives, on top of the 50 million saved since 2002. For instance, estimates show that by 2026, the Global Fund and its partners will be able to provide 28 million people with antiretroviral therapy for HIV annually, procure more than 450 million mosquito nets for malaria prevention, and train and pay community health workers in several countries.
The Global Fund also intends to facilitate broader pandemic preparedness through its investments. By investing in cutting-edge molecular diagnostic tools like Cepheid’s GeneXpert system, the Global Fund will continue to equip countries to quickly and accurately track and contain both tuberculosis and COVID-19, and a 2021 study found that one-third of all Global Fund investments strengthened health security.
Spurred by a $6 billion intended three-year pledge from the Biden administration, a historic increase of nearly 30% over the previous funding cycle, other major donors like Germany and Japan have in recent weeks announced pledges with similar percentage increases. However, with a leadership change in the United Kingdom, sagging exchange rates in Europe, and the war in Ukraine diverting international attention, it remains unclear how much other historically-leading donors intend to pledge.
There is also a catch. By law, the United States can only contribute one-third of total funding for the Global Fund in a given replenishment cycle, so US diplomacy is critical to reaching the Global Fund’s target and unlocking the full $6 billion from the United States. With world leaders gathering in New York this week, efforts on the margins of the General Assembly to encourage increased pledges from Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Community, and others could yield important progress toward the $18 billion goal. If we fall short, decades of lifesaving progress against infectious disease may be at stake, and our readiness for the next pandemic could suffer.
Jon Hyman is the Advocacy Manager at Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and a member of Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative, where he serves on the Global Health, Refugees and Development Working Group.