World leaders launch new anti-poverty agenda at UN
UNITED NATIONS - World leaders launch a bold new anti-poverty agenda at the United Nations this week but the failure to end the carnage in Syria and the refugee crisis it has unleashed will cast a long shadow over the gathering.
Pope Francis will set the tone when he addresses the UN General Assembly on Friday, using his moral voice to support the UN's global development goals, set to be adopted at a summit hours later.
Making his first-ever address to the United Nations, Francis will appeal for action to combat climate change but his remarks on Syria and Europe's migrant crisis could include a few jabs at the UN's weak record.
US President Barack Obama is among some 160 leaders converging on New York for the gathering that will see Russian President Vladimir Putin return to the United Nations after a 10-year absence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Cuba's Raul Castro will take to the podium for the first time, while Germany's Angela Merkel will deliver her first address in five years.
This year's annual gathering comes as the United Nations is turning 70, but few diplomats seem to be in a celebratory mood in the face of bloodshed in Syria, Yemen, Libya and South Sudan.
"Brutal conflicts, breakdowns in basic governance, economic despair and other factors have generated displacements of people not seen since the Second World War," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week.
"Sixty million people have fled their homes."
Ban is convening a high-level meeting on the migration crisis on September 30 to shore up the international response, a day after he sits down with foreign ministers from key powers to try to agree on a way forward on Syria.
The development summit, followed by the assembly debate, is shaping up as one of the highest-level UN meetings ever.
On Friday, leaders will formally adopt the 17 new goals to end extreme poverty, improve health and education and combat climate change in the next 15 years -- an agenda described by Ban as a "to-do list for the world."
The new objectives will replace the millennium development goals that expire this year, but they are much more ambitious in scope.
While the goals are non-binding, the three-day summit opening with a speech by education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai will allow leaders to publicly commit to achieving them.
From Monday, the world's biggest diplomatic gathering will shift its focus to stumbling peace efforts in Syria, now in its fifth year of war, and the mass exodus of migrants and refugees in Europe.
Speaking shortly after Obama, Putin will be under pressure to explain Russia's military buildup in Syria, Moscow's ally in the war that has killed over 240,000 people.
The development is widely seen as having strengthened Moscow's hand in the search for a political solution and advanced Russia's view that the priority is combating Islamic State, and not unseating leader Bashar al-Assad.
Ban is planning to sit down with foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- to discuss the Syria crisis.
A breakthrough might emerge from a meeting between Putin and Obama on the sidelines of the General Assembly, but those talks have yet to be confirmed.
Obama could also hold his first face-to-face encounter with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, fresh from the historic nuclear deal that is now under fire in the US Congress.
On the Israeli-Palestinian front, a formal ceremony is planned on September 30 to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations despite opposition from Israel and the United States.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will preside over the event held a day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his address to the General Assembly.